The two state-wide ballot initiatives this June are Propositions 98 and 99, both dealing with eminent domain.
Eminent domain refers to the practice of governments seizing our private property for some kind of greater good. Eminent domain is generally permitted when goverment needs our land for a public project, such as a highway or storm drain.
But lately local governments are getting into the practice seizing our land and then selling it to another private entity, namely for building housing developments and shopping centers. This came to a boil several years ago in the town of New London, CT, when the US Supreme Court ruled that existing laws permit governments to seize people's homes for the purpose of giving it to developers.
This caused states all across the country to examine their own laws on eminent domain.
In 2006, California Voters defeated Proposition 90, which tried to address eminent domain, but also attached a host of other unrelated matters, which resulted in its demise.
Props 98 and 99 address this matter again, but each compete against each other.
Prop 98 is considered to be the more friendly towards property owners. It basically shuts the door on any kind of eminent domain action for the benefit of private developers. Prop 99 does something similar, except it keeps the door open just a bit.
Prop 98 makes it pretty clear that eminent domain can only happen if it's to create a public works project, where the project is owned by a government entity, or public utility. It totally denies eminent domain for the gain of a private developer.
Prop 99 is similar, except that it only applies when the property owner actually lives on the property, and only applies to single family homes. If the owner doesn't live on the property, the government can still take it away for private use. It also allows government to give your property to private hands if there is any kind illegal activity taking place on your property.
Prop 98 appears to be more geared towards protecting the rights of property owners, whereas Prop 99 appears to more geared towards allowing cities and counties to eliminate blight.
Prop 98 will also eliminate rent controls, allowing property owners to overcome attempts to keep rents low, and return to a market-based system. I don't know of any rent controls here in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County. It may be a non-issue for us. Rent control is not the same as "Section 8" by the way. Section 8 is something a landlord agrees to do, as opposed to being forced to do.
By contrast, Prop 99 leaves existing rent control legislation intact. However, it's largely useless as a law against eminent domain, mainly it because it only applies to single family homes. Eminent domain is rarely ever used against single family homes.
Prop 98 protects all property owners.
People against Prop 98 argue that eminent domain is a minor issue, something that doesn't happen much here in California. But the fact is that the Supreme Court's ruling on New London, CT created a new tool that cities and counties can use to deal with blighted areas. Every state needs to take a look at their eminent domain laws, and make amendments to prevent property seizure for someone else's profit.
If Prop 99 fails, will it mean that that cities and counties become incapable of dealing with blight? Not at all. They can still do it the old fashioned way, have a developer offer a really attractive price.
What happens if both initiatives pass? The one that gets the most votes cancels out the other.
I'm voting Yes on Prop 98, No on Prop 99.
I'd like to hear your thoughts.
For further reading...
- Proposition 98, Secretary of State - a technical document on what changes Prop 98 will make to the State Code.
- Proposition 99, Secretary of State - a technical document on what changes Prop 99 will make the State Code.
- Renters Lose with Proposition 98, San Francisco Chronicle - against Prop 98
- Don't Count on Prop 99, Los Angeles Times, - against Prop 99
- Yes on 98, No on 99, San Francisco Chronicle, favors Prop 98, against Prop 99
- No on 98, Yes on 99, Los Angeles Times, against Prop 98, favors Prop 99
- Propositions 98 and 99 duel over property seizures, Sacramento Bee - an unbiased comparison