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Eminent Domain Initiatives Qualify For June Ballot

An initiative that would prevent the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes and ban local rent control laws has qualified for the June ballot. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation are the primary proponents.

In addition, a competing, more limited measure that would prohibit the taking of owner-occupied, single-family houses for economic development has also qualified for the same June ballot. The League of California Cities and the California Redevelopment Association are the primary proponents.

The Jarvis group and the Farm Bureau contend that their "California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act" is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision that upheld the ability of the government to seize private property for economic purposes. The organizations say the state Legislature's post-Kelo eminent domain reforms which tightened blight finding requirements and eased the ability to challenge redevelopment decisions were inadequate (see CP&DR, October 2006).

"Government should not be able to profit by seizing private property from unwilling sellers for retail or commercial projects," said Sacramento developer Doug Ose, the initiative's campaign finance chairman and a former Republican congressman. Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar has said that the measure is necessary to prevent government from taking farmland in order to acquire water rights.

Local government organizations, affordable housing advocates and environmentalists offer a different view and have started calling the initiative the "hidden agendas scheme." They contend that the measure is so broadly written that it would undermine not only rent control laws, but nearly all state and local laws that seek to protect the rights of tenants. They further argue it would outlaw inclusionary housing ordinances, and might prevent use of eminent domain for water projects. They contend the alternative "Homeowners Protection Act" is a more direct response to Kelo.

For opponents of the Jarvis measure, one of the key provisions is a prohibition on "regulation of ownership, occupancy or use of privately owned real property or associated property rights in order to transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the property owner."

The Western Center on Law & Poverty recently produced a 17-page analysis detailing the potential impacts of the initiative. "Whatever the merits of limiting government's right to seize a person's home and transfer it to a developer as the city government did in Kelo, it is difficult to see how invalidating long-standing laws regarding rights of tenants would advance that goal," the analysis states.

The Jarvis group has responded in part by drafting an initiative that would prevent organizations funded by local government agency dues from spending money to promote or oppose ballot measures. The initiative is a direct shot at the proponents of the alternative eminent domain initiative. Advocates have until June 9 to collect signatures on "The Taxpayer Protection Act of 2008."