California needs to reform eminent domain. However, it appears both of the eminent domain measures – known as Proposition 98 and Proposition 99 – on the June 3 statewide ballot are unsupportable.
Eminent domain allows governments to seize private property with proper compensation to allow for projects “in the public’s interest.” Many property owners have had their homes and businesses seized by government agencies who favor developers whose projects would generate tax revenue.
It is outrageous that municipal governments engage in what is really public-sector land speculation. In some cases, property is seized for grand projects that later fall through. City and county officials usually use bullying tactics and their power to run over small-property owners.
These officials don’t mind designating a prosperous small business or an older house as “blighted” so that it can be seized by eminent domain.
There is a need for a more rational and ethical process for government acquisition of private property.
Proposition 98 would impose a sweeping ban on the use of eminent domain for economic development. The measure also has the language problems seen in far too many ballot initiatives. A vague passage that would prohibit government from taking private land for the “consumption of natural resources” is open to endless interpretation – and legal fights.
Proposition 99 appears to be clear enough. However, it’s not really a reform at all. While the measure would ban the seizure of owner-occupied homes, Proposition 99 has so many loopholes that the state nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said it would not significantly change the status quo.
Given the history of the measure’s chief backers – the League of California Cities and the California Redevelopment Association – this comes as no surprise. These groups haven’t just fought for the right to declare any parcel blighted, they have also displayed hostility to property rights for decades. After what the league and the association have done, it takes supreme self confidence for them to pretend they want to reform a status quo so dear to them.
We say vote “no” on both Propositions 98 and 99. We need moderate and practical reforms. Maybe the state legislature could take the lead on this reform instead of leaving the tough decisions up to voters.