Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 27, 2007

Another chance to reform eminent domain powers

“Private property was the original source of freedom. It still is its main ballpark.” ~ Journalist Walter Lippmann

I tend to take a pretty dim view of initiatives, propositions and ballot measures on state and local ballots. My default position is “No” and it takes lots of well-reasoned arguments to move me to “Yes.”

That said, two areas where I’ve repeatedly advocated “Yes” votes on initiatives – and have been repeatedly disappointed – are redistricting reform and eminent domain reform.

On redistricting reform, I’m convinced that legislators will never vote to cede their power to redraw districts after each census to a non-partisan, uninterested third party like the Little Hoover Commission or a panel of retired judges. Even though it’s clearly in the best interests of constituents and democracy to create competitive districts made up of communities with common interests, legislators’ self-interest in creating safe seats always seems to trump their duty in the end.

That’s how we end up districts like the 11th Congressional District, where I live. It stretches across multiple county lines and mountain ranges, from southeast of Morgan Hill to northeast of Lodi, but doesn’t include San Martin or Gilroy, communities with whom Morgan Hill has many shared concerns.

Redistricting reform will have to be forced upon legislators by the people via the initiative process. So far, lies and fear mongering have kept those initiatives from succeeding at the ballot box.

I’m sorry to report that I’m not aware of any viable efforts to reform redistricting on the horizon.

But eminent domain reform is another story. Californians for Property Rights Protection haven’t let the narrow defeat last year of Proposition 90 – a different attempt at limiting the wildly broadened eminent domain powers the Supreme Court granted local governments in Kelo vs. New London two years ago – discourage them.

In fact, they announced last week that they will submit one million signatures to the California Secretary of State and expect to qualify an eminent domain reform measure for the June 2008 state primary ballot. Because 694,354 valid signatures are needed, backers of this measure expect that the measure will easily qualify for the June ballot.

The measure is called the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act (CPOFPA). If, as expected, it qualifies for the June ballot, you will begin to hear lies and fear mongering of the sort that killed Prop. 90 last year. Please don’t fall for them.

Eminent domain is the power of the government to force the sale of private property. It is tacitly acknowledged in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution: “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Until the landmark Kelo case, eminent domain was understood to be limited to forced sales only for public purposes, like roads, schools, libraries, sewer plants, and similar public facilities.

But in the Supreme Court’s boneheaded Kelo decision, eminent domain powers were dangerously broadened to allow forced sales for “the public good” – meaning one person’s private property could be forcibly sold to another private party if the government agency involved determined that the private buyer’s use was more advantageous to “the public good.”

Here’s what I wrote last year in support of Prop. 90:

“Now there are effectively no limits on the government’s power to seize private property. Let’s face it: A spin doctor with one hand tied behind his back could construe increased tax revenues, beautified buildings, and additional jobs as enhancing the public good. After Kelo, no one’s property is safe.

“I’m not being reactionary. Well-respected dissenting Kelo Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired, wrote, ‘The spectre of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.’”

Because Prop. 90 failed, it’s still true today in California.

And because it’s still true, we need to pass eminent domain reform.

If the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act gains voter approval, it will ban eminent domain on behalf of private developers.

It will not – nor should it – prevent eminent domain for public projects like roads, schools, libraries and sewer plants.

Visit the Californians for Property Rights Protection Web site to learn more. Inoculate yourself with the facts so you won’t become infected by the germs of half-truths, spin, and fear that will spewed by powerful, wealthy, well-connected opponents of eminent domain reform.

“Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.” ~ President Calvin Coolidge

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