WHEN THE SUPREME COURT ruled last year that local governments can use the power of eminent domain to seize your perfectly functional home or business and give it to a private developer, it set off a popular revolt that has spread nationwide. Now it has come to California — and voters should reject it.
That's because the revolt is in the form of Proposition 90, which ventures far beyond protecting your possessions from state seizure and instead seeks to make routine government regulation prohibitively expensive. For this and other reasons, we strongly urge a "no" vote.
Proposition 90 would limit the use of eminent domain in California to "projects of public use," such as roads, parks and other public facilities. It would increase the compensation for property owners, prohibit seizures for "economic development or tax revenue enhancement" and force the dozens of government bodies that have eminent domain powers to use each project for its stated purpose. If, say, a furniture store was seized to make way for an animal shelter, but the animal shelter was never built, the original store owner would have the right to buy it back. So far, so reasonable.
But the proposition drifts into the fringes of California's land-use debate with its provisions on "government actions that result in substantial economic loss to private property." If a city changes zoning to allow for more apartment buildings (theoretically driving down the value of single-family homes), or if the Legislature imposes a new emissions law on factories, or if a government agency tweaks the use of airspace, thousands of property owners could have new grounds to sue. The measure carves out exceptions for rules that "protect public health and safety," but the word "environment" is notably absent.
Supporters counter that Proposition 90 would not apply to future amendments of existing laws and rules, and that bodies such as the California Coastal Commission would still be able to create new regulations. Maybe so. But there is an enormous difference between seizing a house and rezoning a neighborhood. Californians are increasingly skeptical about the former, but they have consistently voted and polled in favor of environmental regulations.
Even as they campaign for its defeat, the politicians and bureaucrats who are understandably terrified by Proposition 90 should nevertheless take heed. Voters are becoming fed up with the casual use of eminent domain to seize property that's not blighted for uses that aren't public. This measure just isn't the proper remedy.