Attorney/author Timothy Sandefur’s take on Prop 98 Vs. Prop 99

The Facts About Eminent Domain Reform
May 16, 2008 by Timothy Sandefur

“It’s sad commentary that a deeply dishonest ballot initiative could be written by a group of special interests hoping to fool voters—and who then turn around and accuse their opponents of doing just that. But that’s what’s happening with Propositions 98 and 99, and it’s understandable that citizens hoping to reform eminent domain might be confused. Here are the facts.

Proposition 98, written by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association—for decades the state’s leading defender of homeowners—would stop government from abusing eminent domain and taking homes, businesses, apartments, farms, churches, and other property and giving it to private developers for their own use.

Government groups and developers, frightened that Prop. 98 might pass, wrote their own initiative, Prop. 99, to prevent serious eminent domain reform from becoming law. That initiative would do absolutely nothing to protect private property owners in California. The initiative specifically excludes small businesses—by far the most common victim of eminent domain—from any protection. It also excludes farms, churches, and apartment buildings.

Worse yet, the fine print in Prop. 99 would reverse even the protections for homeowners. That’s because the initiative’s definitions section states that it will not apply if land is taken away to provide for “recreation” or “entertainment” or for “private uses incidental to” such things. In other words, if bureaucrats decide to take your home to build a shopping mall, they only need to include a community center, or a branch of the public library, or a police station somewhere in that mall, and Prop. 99’s protections would be rendered void.

Moreover, Prop. 99 would not apply to projects intended to prevent the “repeated criminal activity.” Many developers already argue that their private projects will improve the local economy and thereby reduce crime—a flimsy argument when you look at the statistics, but enough to get past Proposition 99’s empty promises.

At bottom, Prop. 99 would do nothing to protect California’s property owners from eminent domain. It was written only to deceive voters into voting against Prop. 98’s real eminent domain reform.

Proposition 98 would stop the abuse of eminent domain. Not only would it protect small businesses as well as homeowners, apartment renters, churches, and farms, but it also provides much-needed procedural protections for property owners faced with eminent domain. At present, victims of eminent domain have little real chance of getting what their property is worth, even though the Constitution promises them “just compensation.” Prop. 98 would fix that. It would also allow judges to take a careful look at condemnations, rather than the rubber-stamp review that the law currently provides.

Prop. 98’s critics charge that it would eliminate rent control and thus hurt tenants. This is curious, given that only Prop. 98 would protect renters from eminent domain. But it’s also deeply misleading.

First, rent control is already illegal in most California cities, under laws passed a decade ago. The reason for this is that rent control is a bad idea; it hurts the poor, drives up the cost of housing, and violates private property rights. If laws make it illegal to charge what something is worth, businesses will provide less of it. Rent control creates housing shortages by deterring investors from putting places up for rent. They also lead to bad maintenance because landlords don’t find it worthwhile to maintain property that they are forced to operate at a discount.

Worst of all, rent control violates property rights by forbidding landowners from charging what they want for their land. You can’t say you believe in your own property rights, but not the property rights of people you label as “the rich” or “evil landlords.”

Still, Prop. 98 would not touch rent control for any person currently living in rent controlled property. It would phase out rent control only when people move, but it does not allow landlords to evict people for paying low rents, or to raise rents for people living on their land. The idea that Prop. 98 would throw people out on the street is a lie spread by Prop. 99’s backers to fool people into voting against eminent domain reform

Prop. 98 is being attacked by government bureaucrats and their supporters who want to keep abusing eminent domain as they have for decades. These bureaucrats wrote Prop. 99 with the specific intent of deceiving voters in to enacting a meaningless promise that will do nothing to protect property rights. It’s sickening, and voters should not fall for it.

If you think Kelo v. New London went too far, and if you think eminent domain abuse must be eliminated you should vote yes on Proposition 98 and no on Prop. 99.

Timothy Sandefur is an attorney specializing in eminent domain and the author of the book Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America (Cato Institute, 2006).”

Gilbert comment. While my fellow bloggers may differ on the facts, I would prefer reading what an expert in the field has to say rather than the spin machine of the opposition who are using huge sums of taxpayer monies to block protection of taxpayers private property. That fact alone is rather troubling to me. In fact O.C. Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach made a similar comment at a recent meeting after the Board voted 5-0 to support Prop 98 and to oppose Prop 99.

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