When the government wants your property

Today’s question: Propositions 98 and 99 both claim to offer protection from eminent domain. Which one (if either) would be better for Californians? All week, California Republican Assembly President Mike Spence and Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman debate the issues on the June 3 ballot.

Stop public seizure for private gain
Point: Mike Spence

Eric, I look forward to “dusting up” with you over the important issues facing voters on the June 3 primary ballot.

In G.K. Chesterton’s novel, “The Napoleon of Notting Hill,” Provost Adam Wayne -- while bravely resisting the dictates of the king -- says, “That which is large enough for the rich to covet is large enough for the poor to defend.” While written more than 100 years ago, Wayne’s words still ring through the halls of city councils and other government entities that take land through eminent domain and give it to private, politically connected businesses.

The churches, synagogues, small businesses and homes that governments try to seize aren’t located in the most fashionable parts of town. Working-class citizens that just want to practice their religion, make a living and provide shelter for their families are the targets of eminent domain. Proposition 98 would protect them from abusive government agencies by prohibiting the use of eminent domain when the sought-after land is intended for private projects such as shopping centers and office buildings. Governments in California could use eminent domain only if they intend to build public-use projects such as schools, roads and parks. Proposition 98 would protect property owners from agencies that forcibly claim their land for public use and then sell it to a private developer. In those cases, Proposition 98 would force the agencies to offer it back to the original owner.

The initiative would also limit the future ability of governments to dictate the price for which owners can sell or lease their property. It would, however, allow rent-control levels in place as of last year to continue until a tenant moves out of a leased property.

Opponents say Californians don’t need Proposition 98, but the track record of eminent-domain abuse by public agencies in California tells us otherwise. In Baldwin Park, one business owner was notified two years ago that the city wanted his property -- the location to which he moved after Baldwin Park seized his land in 1980. Long Beach’s redevelopment agency threatened a small Filipino Baptist Church in 2006 to make way for new condos. Monrovia’s City Council condemned an auto-repair shop in 2005 to build condos near a railroad track. The city of Arcadia threatened a small restaurant and a church in 2006 to help an auto dealer. Essentially, cities think their eminent-domain seizures for private development will make them more money by increasing their sales- and property-tax revenue, and developers get richer by building these new projects.

Eric, I find it ironic that the state Democratic Party -- which often claims to speak for working people -- sides with big government and politically connected developers of both parties on Propositions 98 and 99. Those who benefit from abusing eminent domain are supporting Proposition 99. The respected, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office sums up Proposition 99 pretty nicely: “This measure would not change significantly current government land acquisition practices.”

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, one of the precursors to the Declaration of Independence, said, “All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Citizens have an inherent right to own and manage private property. Only the protection of Proposition 98 can stop the covetousness of the rich toward the land of the “poor.”

Mike Spence is president of the California Republican Assembly and writes for and

Prop. 98 unites Democrats and Republicans — against it
Counterpoint: Eric C. Bauman

Mike, one cannot “dust up” if there is no dust. Fortunately for this installment, Proposition 98 kicks up a whole bunch of dust.

I think we can all agree that our homes should not being taken from us by the government except in the rarest of circumstances -- circumstances that benefit the public at large, not politically connected individuals or businesses.

If Proposition 98 were truly about protecting our homes from government “taking,” a massive coalition of Republicans and Democrats, business groups and labor unions, enviros and builders, liberal-leaning newspapers like The Times and conservative-leaning newspapers like the San Diego Union Tribune would come together as one in support. After all, each of us shares the belief that one’s home is one’s castle, the last refuge from the ever-encroaching world in which we live and work.

Based on the legislative nirvana you’ve described, Mike, I would think Proposition 98 would cause a huge coalescence of groups, leaders and ordinary folks around this issue. And in fact, these groups have come together -- in opposition,

A huge, diverse coalition of people and groups rarely seen working together in California, representing a broad cross section of our state, has come together to oppose Proposition 98. These folks share the belief that the initiative is a fraud -- the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing -- brought to us by greedy apartment and mobile-home-park owners who want to end protections for renters, and by other special interests that hope to limit zoning rules that protect our air and water quality.

When last do you recall seeing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stand with Sen. Barbara Boxer; former Gov. Pete Wilson stand with Sen. Dianne Feinstein; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand with Rep. George Radanovich; the California Chamber of Commerce join the California Labor Federation; the California League of Conservation voters join the California Building Industry Assn.? Even the editorial boards of The Times and the San Diego Union Tribune have opined against Proposition 98. When a magnum coalition such as this comes together, it usually signals a political overreach by egocentric special interests, and that’s exactly what we have here. Proposition 98 is not about correcting an errant U.S. Supreme Court ruling; it is about fulfilling the selfish desires of a privileged few.

As The Times said in editorializing against Proposition 98: “Now we have another initiative that masquerades as a simple correction to the notorious Kelo ruling, but really carries the long-standing agenda of interests that want to extinguish rent control and block water and air quality laws.” In addition to phasing out rent control, Proposition 98 would jeopardize dozens of laws that protect renters, such as those that require the fair return of rental deposits and a 60-day notice before forcing tenants out of their homes. The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo vs. New London is something that California voters should rightfully be worried about. Proposition 99 is simpler, cleaner and much more focused on protecting homeowners against eminent-domain abuse.

Mike, at the end of the day, Proposition 98 is surrounded by “dust,” most of which is designed to cover up the real effects of this deceptive scheme on everyday Californians.

Eric C. Bauman is the chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. He can be reached at

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