[The California Farm Bureau Federation] has taken the lead on many issues to protect California family farms and ranches, and this summer we step forward to promote private property rights.
With the help of committed Farm Bureau volunteers, we will qualify an initiative for the statewide ballot to protect private property from government seizure for the purpose of transferring that property to another private owner.
We remember the public outcry that arose two years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in what has come to be known as the Kelo case. The decision said that local government could seize property from unwilling sellers and transfer that property to another private owner for redevelopment projects, such as a new shopping center.
Government can take property for a legitimate public use through a process known as "eminent domain," and 41 states reformed their eminent-domain rules to prevent abuse of this power in response to the Kelo case. But here in California, special-interest groups block real reforms.
So Farm Bureau, with our partners the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, is co-sponsoring a ballot measure to stand up to government eminent-domain abuses.
Our measure is called the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act.
It will protect all properties from being condemned and seized for private development. That's a direct response to the Kelo ruling.
The measure does allow government to continue to take property for a true public purpose - things such as highways, schools and police stations. But it adds important protections for owners who lose their property, including compensation for temporary business losses, relocation expenses and other reasonable expenses.
Our initiative goes even further, by preventing government from seizing property for the same use as that of the original owner.
We call that the Conaway Ranch provision, because of an example of eminent-domain abuse that surfaced in Yolo County. Supervisors there tried to seize a property known as Conaway Ranch, saying it wanted to assure "preservation" of the property and its water. The county even went as far as financing the seizure by securing a loan from a local casino.
Fortunately, public opposition from the Yolo County Farm Bureau and others convinced the county to abandon the effort. But it shows how vulnerable farmland can be to abuses of the government's condemnation powers.
Because farmland generally doesn't cost as much to seize as does residential or commercial property, it is particularly at risk for seizure. So it's especially important to family farmers and ranchers that California enacts reasonable controls on government condemnation powers.
Here's what you can do.
Farm Bureau and our partners need to collect more than 700,000 valid signatures to place the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act on the ballot next June. We plan to collect more than a million signatures, just to be safe.
That's a big number, but our partners will help, and if every Farm Bureau member collected just five signatures, we'd be halfway there.
Petitions are available at county Farm Bureau offices. You can also request a petition from the California Farm Bureau Web site at www.cfbf.com/protect or the Californians for Property Rights Protection Web site at www.yesonpropertyrights.com.
At each of those sites, you can learn more about the initiative and read it in its entirety.
We think the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act is something every family farmer and rancher in the state can support. Together, we will lead the way to assuring meaningful, long-lasting protection for private property.
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.cfbf.com