Eminent domain initiatives will be found on 11 state ballots across the country next month, most in response to a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court last year wherein it found that privately owned real property could be condemned by the state and then transferred to another private owner for comprehensive redevelopment, if the community would enjoy economic growth as a result.
With Proposition 90, California is poised to offer a law designed to protect private property owners from state-sponsored eminent domain abuse.
Local resident Anne Hoffman, president of the Land Use Preservation Defense Fund, a homeowner protection group, sees Proposition 90 as a godsend to private property owners.
"The government has a voracious appetite for seizing private property and then turning it over to developers for profit," Hoffman said. "Malibu people are affected when the state decides it's in 'the public interest' to regulate someone's land here."
Under Proposition 90, the state must compensate a private property owner if it restricts in any way, whether for environmental protection, infrastructure development or land use zoning, that owner's enjoyment of business development of his property. If local governments cannot afford to pay such compensatory claims, they must permit the property owner unregulated usage of his property.
Opponents of Proposition 90, which include both California U.S. senators, most city mayors and council members, public safety groups such as firefighters and police forces, organized labor, most California Chambers of Commerce and just about every environmental group of record, agree that some kind of eminent domain reform is necessary.
"But the initiative, as written, is a Trojan Horse," said Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission.
In the view of such opponents, the problem is in the "Regulatory Takings" clause of the initiative, which is not restricted to real property. Kathy Fairbanks of the No on 90 campaign elaborated: "'Property' could be real property, intellectual property, business or personal property. As written, Prop 90 would open up California to lawsuits from just about any private business that doesn't want any kind of restrictions imposed on it, even if it is for the public welfare."
Proponents of Prop 90 say that the initiative will not affect environmental protections currently on the books.
"And for future regulation," Ray Haynes, representing the 66th Assembly District in Northern San Diego County, said, "the Prop 90 law can be waived if the state can make a legitimate claim that it is a safety or health issue for the community."
"The problem is that the drafters of the initiative cleverly left out the words 'welfare of the community,'" Douglas said. "So if a county wants to re-draw school districts to meet changing population demographics, they are open to legal challenge from homeowners within those districts."
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