It seems that the government always has the advantage in its ongoing legal battle with property rights advocates. But recently, property owners scored two big wins – although a government agency was responsible for one of the property owners' victories.

In one case, a state court ruled that property owners in Rancho Palos Verdes who have been prevented from building for three decades because of the city's concern about landslides are due compensation for the loss of their property rights. In the other case, a federal court ruled that a Board of Reclamation mandate requiring a Ventura County water district to provide water for an endangered fish was a physical taking of the district's property. (A third case went the other when a Sierra Madre developer may have swung for the fence before the ball left the pitcher's hand.)

The Rancho Palos Verdes and Casitas Municipal Water District cases appear to be landmark cases that give hope to property owners who have long chafed under government regulation. The decisions also greatly worry the regulators, who are charged with protecting the public good. Although the cases are unrelated, the decisions were handed down only days apart and they appear to mark a moment in time – a moment when the scales begin to tip in a different direction.

The U.S. Supreme Court typically provides these moments every half dozen years or so. But these lower court decisions, should they stand, could prove to be every bit as important to property owners and government regulators as anything the high court has done in recent years.

– Paul Shigley