Get ready for the Great Eminent Domain War of 2008.

Jim Madaffer, the San Diego city councilmember who's the incoming president of the League of California Cities, traveled all the way to Ventura Friday – by train – to encourage local elected officials from the Central Coast to help collect signatures for the League's eminent domain initiative.

The League's measure is an alternative to a measure being circulated by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The League's measure – which failed to pass the Legislature this year – would prohibit eminent domain on owner-occupied housing. The Jarvis measure includes a much more sweeping eminent domain prohibition, along with restrictions on zoning similar to those contained in Proposition 90 – and a prohibition on rent control as well. Proposition 90 lost by 5 points in 2006, even though there was a significant campaign against it and little campaign for it.

Because the League was unable to get the measure on the ballot through the Legislature, League officials are now scrambling to gather signatures. At the Friday night event, Madaffer said the League is asking each local elected official in the state to collect 50 to 100 signatures – mostly as a way to reduce the cost of the signature-gathering campaign, which is expected to cost upwards of $3-5 million. (The Madaffer plan would gather between 100,000 and 200,000 signatures at no cost to the campaign.)

The League is making a big stink out of the idea that the Jarvis association played ball in the Legislature, then bailed – a "bait and switch," Madaffer called it – before the Legislature passed the limited eminent domain initiative. This required the League and its allies to, first, decide whether to mount its own initiative – a Yes/No campaign instead of a No campaign, as Madaffer put it – and, second, gather a lot of signatures in a short period of time for their own initiative.

Meanwhile, the Jarvis measure has the backing of a large range of property owners, including landlords, because of its expansive provisions.

Madaffer scored "smart growth points" with Central Coast electeds for riding the train. (He boasted about "getting a lot of work done" on the five-hour ride.) But he admitted that he was not well-briefed about his itinerary in Ventura, and hailed a cab – which someone else had called ahead to obtain – for the 600-yard trip from the Amtrak station to the Crowne Plaza Hotel. He apologized and said he easily could have pulled his roller-bag down Harbor Boulevard if only he had known.

Plus he would have gotten a pretty good tour of locations that have become famous because of the movie Little Miss Sunshine, in which Ventura played the role of Redondo Beach.

- Bill Fulton