Analysis of the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act: Institute for Justice, 10/4/07

News release

The California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act (“CPOFPA”), petitions for which are currently being circulated for signatures, will stop eminent domain abuse—the forcible acquisition of property by local governments for private development. Should enough signatures be gathered, this constitutional amendment will appear on the June 2008 ballot.

CPOFPA very simply states: “Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use,”[1] an explicit prohibition on the use of eminent domain to take property from home and small business owners to build luxury condominiums and big box stores. This unambiguous protection is necessary because California is one of the biggest abusers of eminent domain in the country. Indeed, over the years, the Institute for Justice has found more than 1,000 abuses of the government’s power of eminent domain in California; these abuses would be blocked under the language proposed in CPOFPA.[2] IJ is currently fighting one such abuse in National City, which has authorized using eminent domain to bulldoze a community athletic center for high-end housing under a bogus blight designation.[3]

While CPOFPA would stop governments and redevelopment agencies from taking property for private uses, traditional uses of eminent domain for public use will not be affected. Roads and bridges will be built. Water projects such as drainage ditches, sewers, reservoirs, dams, drinking water and irrigation have long been accepted as public uses and that will not change under CPOFPA. And eminent domain can still be used to build schools, post offices, sewers and electric lines.

In addition to barring eminent domain for private uses and allowing it for public uses, CPOFPA includes compensation and procedural reforms. Though it does have a provision regarding contracts between a private landowner and a lessee, CPOFPA does not incorporate the broad-based regulatory takings language contained in Proposition 90, which was narrowly defeated last year.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s now infamous case in Kelo v. City of New London, permitting the government to take property from one private individual and transfer it to another for the purpose of economic development, has rightly highlighted eminent domain abuse in California, which disproportionately affects minorities, poorer communities and the less educated.[4] CPOFPA restores constitutional protections against eminent domain abuse, and would ensure all homes and small businesses, churches and farms remain in the hands of those that own them.
[1] The initiative may be found at http://ag.ca.gov/cms_pdfs/initiatives/2007-05-03_07-0015_Initiative.pdf.

[2] The studies documenting these abuses, Public Power, Private Gain and Opening the Floodgates, may be found at http://www.castlecoalition.org/publications/index.html.

[3] More information on this case is available at http://www.ij.org/private_property/nationalcity/index.html.

[4] Victimizing the Vulnerable may be found at http://www.ij.org/pdf_folder/other_pubs/Victimizing_the_Vulnerable.pdf.

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