11/09/2006

Measure to restrict government power over private land being rejected: San Francisco CA Chronicle, 11/8/06

By Patrick Hoge

[California] Voters were poised Tuesday to reject Proposition 90, a measure that supporters said would stop the government from using eminent domain to take private property on behalf of developers, but which critics said would actually hobble land-use regulation.

The "Protect Our Homes Act" - one among a handful of similar efforts in various states - had 49.4 percent of the vote with 32.1 percent of precincts reporting.

Proponents said Prop. 90 was a necessary reaction to the June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed New London, Conn., to seize the home of Susette Kelo and others so a developer could build a hotel, condominiums and commercial space on the site.

Critics countered that the court ruling had no bearing on California, and called Prop. 90 a "taxpayer trap." They said the measure would lead to lots of litigation and make it hard for cities to plan development.

"We are ahead, but there's still a lot of votes to be counted,'' said Tom Adams, president of the California League of Conservation Voters. "So far, it looks like the voters understand that Prop. 90 would hurt the environment and impose tremendous costs on taxpayers.''

The anti-Prop. 90 campaign drew support from an unusual assortment of players that included cities, the state's major environmental groups, builders, bankers and labor groups. Opponents raised about $12.45 million, compared with $3.77 million by proponents, according to the latest disclosure reports.

"We were outspent in total more than 3 to 1,'' said Kevin Spillane, a spokesman for the "yes'' campaign. "The opposition campaign was financed by special-interest money and based on blatant distortions and falsehoods."

The vast majority of the money in support came from groups led by or connected to conservative New York real estate investor Howie Rich, who has long supported candidates and measures favoring property rights, term limits, tax cuts and school vouchers.

Rich helped steer millions of dollars to similar property-rights measures in Arizona and Nevada, which appeared to be winning Tuesday night, and in Idaho and Washington, where they were losing. Other measures he supported in Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma were disqualified by courts. His money also flowed to initiatives promoting term limits and curbs on taxes and government spending.

Much of the criticism of Prop. 90 focused on language that would require public agencies to compensate property owners for "regulatory takings" - times when a government decision prevents a property owner from developing or using land. The measure would have amended the state Constitution to require the government to pay for any "substantial" loss in property value caused by new laws or rules, except ones dealing with public health and safety.

Though supporters denied it, the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst's Office said the measure could affect more than land, potentially requiring compensation for rules governing such things as pollution, employment conditions, consumer protection and rent control.

Local redevelopment officials said limiting the use of eminent domain for projects such as shopping centers or hotels would make it more difficult to revitalize blighted areas.

Prop. 90 also could increase the price of property acquired through eminent domain, which critics said would make public works projects more costly.


San Francisco CA Chronicle: http://sfgate.com