Property-rights group readies eminent domain initiative: The Oregonian, 8/10/05

Associated Press

Voters in 2006 could be asked to limit the government's power to take private property.

Oregonians in Action, the state's leading property rights group, filed paperwork Tuesday with the state elections office for a November 2006 ballot measure that would allow governments to condemn property only if they plan to use it themselves — not turn it over to private developers.

The issue gained national attention in June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled local governments can force owners to sell land for economic development projects that benefit the public.

The proposed initiative needs 75,630 signatures to make the ballot.

"We want to nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem here," said David Hunnicutt, director of Oregonians In Action. "People want to feel somewhat secure they're not going to have their property taken because the local government decides another business would be a better use."

Hunnicutt's group scored a major victory in the November 2004 election, when its Measure 37 was backed by 61 percent of voters.

The measure allows property owners affected by land use restrictions that were passed after they bought the property to either ask for an exemption from the rules, or compensation for any loss in property value that was caused by the regulations.

The condemnation issue is unlikely to be as contentious. Land-use planning advocate 1000 Friends of Oregon is fine with limiting condemnation power — depending on the details, director Bob Stacey said Tuesday.

The initiative would protect homes, businesses, farms and forests from condemnation for private projects. Governments could still buy land for utilities or transportation facilities that are privately operated.

Legislators considered similar bill in the session that ended last week. The bill cleared the House, but senators said the issue needed more deliberation.

"It was too complicated, too late," said Sen. Charlie Ringo, D-Beaverton.

Legislators who supported the condemnation bill are likely to campaign for it during election season. Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, said he doesn't want private companies pressuring government officials for land.

"It's a horrible situation to put these people in," Krieger said. "We need to stop it, and we were in a position to do that."

The Oregonian: www.oregonian.com