Don’t overreact to eminent domain threat: East Valley AZ Tribune, 10/4/06


Sometimes, good-hearted activists propose a new state law with a worthwhile goal when the actual language has unintended but sweeping negative consequences.

When such a law is adopted by the Legislature and governor, such as the alternative fuels tax credit fiasco of 2002, lawmakers can return to the state Capitol and remove the errors or repeal the measure relatively quickly.

But when a bad law is adopted by the voters at the ballot box, such as public campaign funding for state offices, constitutional protections have made it practically impossible for the Legislature to fix any problems. And the special interests who love or hate these measures fight tooth-and-nail to block legislative referendums or new initiatives to make desperately needed repairs.

This is why Proposition 207 on the Nov. 7 ballot is so dangerous. The initiative is being promoted as a critical step to prevent governmental abuse of the power to condemn private property.

But Prop. 207 also could disrupt all efforts at reasonable zoning and land-use planning, as governments could be sued for regulations that property owners believe diminish the immediate value of their possessions.

Prop. 207 is part of a national movement reacting to a bad decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year that says the U.S. Constitution doesn’t forbid the use of eminent domain to redevelop property and boost tax revenues. Tribune writer Jason Massad reported Sunday that Arizona is one of 10 states with ballot measures this year to prevent such inappropriate seizures at the local level instead.

But this movement has attracted activists who have a more extreme agenda than just stopping the foreclosure of grandma’s aging house for a new shopping mall.

These folks want to overturn 40 years of progress on zoning policies and general land-use plans that seek to create robust employment centers while separating industrial factories from day care centers and preventing homes from rising directly under airport flight paths.

We recognize this a difficult balancing act, and we frequently urge government to refrain from heavy-handed tactics in favor of allowing someone to use their hardearned property.

But we as a nation have learned in the past few decades that visionary land planning tends to increase property values for everyone in the long run.

Oregon became the test case for this type of law when its voters approved an initiative similar to Prop. 207 two years ago. So far, $5 billion in claims have been filed against state and local governments, or about half of this year’s Arizona general fund budget that pays for everything from education to health care for the poor and public safety.

Supporters of Prop. 207 say the Arizona proposal avoids Oregon’s mistake by applying only to future zoning decisions. But this could result in cities and counties simply freezing current zoning regulations, regardless of changes in growth patterns and other market trends.

Recent Arizona court decisions already have imposed most of the limits on the use of eminent domain sought in Prop. 207. So this isn’t an urgent matter here as it might be in other parts of the country.

But the more far-reaching portions of Prop. 207 could become a planning nightmare that, if approved by voters, we could be stuck with for years or decades.

East Valley AZ Tribune: http://www.eastvalleytribune.com