California’s Sneaky Propositions 98 & 99

eminent domainThere are two competing propositions on the California Direct Primary (June 3) ballot:

Proposition 98Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property
Proposition 99Eminent Domain. Acquisition of Owner-Occupied Residence

If both measures pass, the one with the most votes prevails.

Do not click away from this page, my non-California readers, this post is not about the Propositions. It is about snarky, sneaky, sleazy tactics.

Supporters of Prop 98 tout it as a way to protect private property from eminent domain, a long-standing governmental option made stronger when the U. S. Supreme Court (Kelo v. City of New London) held that the government may use eminent domain to take property from its owner for the purpose of transferring it to a private developer. Prop 98 amends the state constitution to read (excised words are struck through; new language is in italics):

SEC. 19. (a) Private property may be taken or damaged only for a stated public use only and when just compensation, ascertained by a jury unless waived, has first been paid to, or into court for, the owner…Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use.

But note this definition included in the amendment:

1) “Taken” includes transferring the ownership, occupancy, or use of property from a private owner to a public agency or to any person or entity other than a public agency, or limiting the price a private owner may charge another person to purchase, occupy or use his or her real property. [underlining added]

In short, Prop 98, which is funded by developers, landlords, and mobile home park owners, is really about abolishing rent control. Exercise of eminent domain rarely causes an uproar because its use is usually for public projects (roads, parks, aqueducts, etc.) and usually fair market prices are paid. Urban redevelopment for private projects like privately owned athletic stadiums does create controversy. Prop 98 would make such transfers more difficult.

Prop 99 bars state and local governments from using eminent domain to acquire an owner-occupied residence for conveyance to a private person or business entity. Exceptions include public works or improvements, public health and safety protection, and crime prevention. According to California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, however, Prop 99 “is not likely to significantly alter current government land acquisition practices.” Opponents see it as toothless and on the ballot only to defeat Prop 98.

No Prop 98No Prop 99Situations like the Kelo case—where the city condemned homes in order to transfer the land to a private developer of condos, thus raising the tax base—demand reform, but legislators should be doing this job, not leaving it to lobbying organizations to trick and confuse the voters. I spent several hours researching these two proposals. How many voters will take the time to study the wording of these competing propositions?

Vote NO on both Prop 98 and Prop 99.

If reform is needed, make the California Legislature do it.

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