Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 6, 2008

Prop 98: Real eminent domain reform

In less than one month, Californians will cast ballots in the state’s second primary election of 2008. In an attempt to “matter more” in the presidential primary races, California moved its presidential primary election to February but kept other primary elections in June.

The irony, of course, is that if officials had left the presidential primary in June, not only would Californians’ votes matter a lot more in this year’s historic Democratic presidential primary race, but we’d have saved a lot of money.

In state Assembly District 27, which includes Morgan Hill, San Martin, and parts of northwest Gilroy, the June primary features four Democrats vying to be the party’s nominee to replace John Laird, who’s been termed out of office.

But I’m most interested in the two state propositions on the ballot, Propositions 98 and 99. Both claim to be eminent domain reform, but only one really is.

On June 3, I’m voting yes on Prop 98 and no on Prop 99.

Eminent domain reform is critical in light of the Supreme Court’s dangerous expansion of eminent domain powers in its terribly misguided Kelo v. New London decision. Because of that decision, government can force the sale of private property for any purpose that it considers an enhancement of the “public good.”

Before Kelo, the government’s power to force the sale of private property was limited to public-use projects like schools, roads, or sewer plants. Public-use projects are reasonable, constitutional uses of eminent domain.

After Kelo, any government agency can force the sale of real estate, including homes, apartments, businesses, churches, or farms, to developers who want to build factories, housing, retail, or other projects; as long as the non-public-use projects are prettier, bring jobs or increase taxes, they can be construed as enhancing the public good.

The post-Kelo version of eminent domain is a dramatic and dangerous infringement on Americans’ civil liberties. The threat is real. The Institute for Justice studied just one five-year period, 1998 to 2002, and discovered more than 10,000 cases of eminent domain filed or threatened to benefit private developers.

What’s the difference between the dueling eminent domain propositions?

The Smart Voter web site says that Prop 98 “bars state and local governments from condemning or damaging private property for private uses. … Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increased costs to many governments due to the measure’s restrictions. The fiscal effect on most governments probably would not be significant.”

In other words, Prop 98 protects all real estate from eminent domain on behalf of private developers.

The Smart Voter web site says that Prop 99 “bars state and local governments from using eminent domain to acquire an owner-occupied residence … for conveyance to a private person or business entity. Creates exceptions for public work or improvement, public health and safety protection, and crime prevention. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: The measure would likely not have a significant fiscal impact on state or local governments.”

In addition, the nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office says that Prop 99 “would not change significantly current government land acquisition practices.”

That’s because Prop 99 only affects owner-occupied homes in which the owners have lived for at least one year. It doesn’t apply to real estate used by businesses, churches, farms. It doesn’t protect rental homes. Not only that, Prop 99 creates numerous exceptions even for owner-occupied homes.

That’s why opponents have justifiably called Prop 99 the “do-nothing” proposition.

Prop 99 is supported by the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, the California Special Districts Association and the California Redevelopment Association. Each of these groups has a vested interest in making sure that real eminent domain reform doesn’t stand a chance in California.

They can do that by passing sham legislation like Prop 99, or by splitting the vote so that neither measure passes. Either way, they keep all or most of their overly broad eminent domain powers that let them take private property from one private party and give it to another private party – usually a well-connected developer – all in the name of the vague and highly subjective “public good.”

Don’t fall for it. Blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s boneheaded Kelo v. New London decision in California. Protect one of our precious civil liberties – private property rights. Vote yes on Prop 98 and no on Prop 99.



  1. Nice writing style. I will come back to read more posts from you.

    Susan Kishner

  2. […] Prop 98: Real eminent domain reform – […]

  3. This is right on, but I hope we don’t lose our property rights because renters vote against prop 98. Vote yes on 98 no 99

  4. […] as with Prop 99, which was faux eminent domain reform, I worry that Prop 11 might be faux redistricting reform. […]

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