PRIVATE PROPERTIES' FATE GOES TO VOTERS SEIZURE: BALLOT MEASURES WOULD LIMIT EMINENT-DOMAIN POWER.Byline: Harrison Sheppard
SACRAMENTO -- The fate of billions of dollars worth of private property in California will be at stake this year in a political battle over how much power the government should have to seize homes and businesses for redevelopment.
With competing eminent- domain reform measures on the June ballot, the outcome will pit taxpayer groups These taxpayer groups can be formal nonprofit organizations or informal groups. They are generally seen as “watch dog” groups. As such they try to keep taxes and borrowing down as well as spending. Many US cities have these taxpayer groups. against elected officials -- and business and developers likely against both of them.
"I think the local and state chambers will fight this tooth and nail," said Barbara O'Connor Barbara O'Connor is an author and Senior Lecturer in the School of Communications at Dublin City University: Her field is media studies and cultural studies, specializing on the represemtation of women in television, and of the development of tourism in Ireland. , director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento California State University, Sacramento, more commonly referred to as Sacramento State or Sac State, is a public university located in the city of Sacramento, California, USA. It is part of the California State University system. , "because this is one way that they can 'mine' inner-city areas, which are often cheaper to develop and have large developments where they couldn't otherwise acquire property."
The fight comes as California's population is surging and a shortage of land is increasing pressure on governments to exert legal authority to seize private property for everything from traditional purposes, such as new schools and roads, to private developers' mixed-use retail, office and housing projects or sports arenas.
And in a state where Proposition 13 restricts hiking property tax rates, expanding the tax base through redevelopment has become increasingly attractive to local governments.
The ballot measures in June focus only on eminent-domain authority in private development and are a reaction to a court decision three years ago.
In that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially confirmed government's right to seize homes whose owners don't want to sell them and hand the property over to private developers -- a decision that critics say has opened the floodgates for property seizures nationwide.
And national property-rights groups say California has one of the worst records for protecting private-property rights.
"California is one of the most notorious eminent-domain abusers in the country," said Jeff Rowes Jeff Rowe (born March 21, 1984) is an American football quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals. He played college football at the University of Nevada from 2002-2006 and high school football at Robert McQueen High School from 1998-2001. He was selected 151st overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. , an attorney with the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, a nonprofit group.
"There are massive cases of abuse. The two places you find eminent-domain abuse are scenic areas and the intersection of major transportation conduits. California has lots of interstates and lots of scenery. It has traditionally been a big abuser."
And because the areas that are most often targeted for redevelopment are those that experience blight blight, general term for any sudden and severe plant disease or for the agent that causes it. The term is now applied chiefly to diseases caused by bacteria (e.g., bean blights and fire blight of fruit trees), viruses (e.g., soybean bud blight), fungi (e.g. and economic hardships, "eminent-domain abuse falls overwhelmingly on the poor and minorities, and California has lots of those," he added.
But government agencies and developers say eminent domain eminent domain, the right of a government to force the owner of private property sell it if it is needed for a public use. The right is based on the doctrine that a sovereign state has dominion over all lands and buildings within its borders, which has its origins in is a necessary tool for the economic rebirth of depressed areas.
In Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. , eminent domain -- or simply the threat of it -- has been used to acquire properties in the redevelopment of Hollywood, the building of the Staples Center This article
* Its neutrality is disputed.
* It may contain original research or unverifiable claims.
* It does not cite any references or sources. and has multiple issues:revitalization re·vi·tal·ize
tr.v. re·vi·tal·ized, re·vi·tal·iz·ing, re·vi·tal·iz·es
To impart new life or vigor to: plans to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods; tried to revitalize a flagging economy. projects in South Los Angeles South Los Angeles is the official name for a large geographic and cultural area lying to the southwest and southeast of downtown Los Angeles, California. The area was formerly called South Central Los Angeles, and is still sometimes called South Central. .
"You have the ability to go into areas that are terribly downtrodden down·trod·den
oppressed and lacking the will to resist
Adj. 1. , with high poverty and high crime, and assemble enough property to make a block deal happen," said Bruce Ackerman Bruce Arnold Ackerman (born August 19, 1943) is a famous constitutional law scholar in the United States. He is a Sterling Professor at Yale Law School and one of the most frequently cited legal academics in the country. Biography
Ackerman received his B. , vice chairman of the Los Angeles city Community Redevelopment Agency and chairman of the California Association for Local Economic Development. "I've always seen it as a very positive tool."
But, he added, it's also a "tool of last resort," with cities strongly preferring to negotiate voluntary deals with property owners.
However, those who own properties facing condemnation often feel intimidated by the government's power and tactics.
Cruz Baca Sembello's family has lived in Baldwin Park Baldwin Park, city (1990 pop. 69,330), Los Angeles co., S Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, in the fertile San Gabriel valley; settled 1870, inc. 1956. Its industries include metal fabrication, printing, and plastics manufacturing. for more than 60 years. Now, the city plans a massive redevelopment project on 125acres that could force out about 500 residential and commercial property owners. Sembello said her parents have owned their mortgage-free home there for about 40 years.
"Even if they did offer them market value, there's no way they could move or would want to move," Sembello said.
She said she might understand if the city needed the property to widen a road or build a school -- but not for a private developer.
"Where are my rights as an American?" she said. "Where does it stop?"
The Castle Coalition, sponsored by the Institute for Justice, says use of eminent domain for the benefit of private redevelopment has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court decision in 2005.
From 1998 to 2002, the group tracked 10,282 properties nationwide threatened or taken by eminent domain for the benefit of private parties.
In the year after the court decision, the group tracked 5,783 properties threatened or taken. Annualized annualized
Of or relating to a variable that has been mathematically converted to a yearly rate. Inflation and interest rates are generally annualized since it is on this basis that these two variables are ordinarily stated and compared. , that's almost three times as many properties at risk after the decision.
In California, the group tracked 858 properties in the five years before the court decision; after the decision, 346 properties were at risk, or about double the annual rate.
But California authorities say the law was clear in this state long before the court decision. Local redevelopment agencies have always had the power to seize private property for private development, but only if the area is first officially designated as blighted.
There is often a strong economic incentive to declare an area blighted. Through a tool known as "tax-increment financing," the city can keep any additional tax revenue generated by the higher property values a redevelopment project creates.
In June, California voters will have the ability to restrict the government's power in some eminent-domain cases.
One measure, sponsored by the League of California Cities, is specifically focused on homes. It would prohibit government from seizing residential property and giving it to a private developer for commercial purposes.
A second measure, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association helped sponsor Proposition 13, the property tax-cutting initiative in California in 1978 which slashed property taxes by fifty-seven percent and initiated a national tax revolt. It was founded by California republican Howard Jarvis. , would prevent the seizure of both homes and businesses and would also essentially end rent control in California.
This would be achieved through vacancy decontrol de·con·trol
tr.v. de·con·trolled, de·con·trol·ling, de·con·trols
To stop control of, especially by the government: decontrolled oil and natural-gas prices. . Rent limits would remain in place for current tenants, but once an apartment is vacated, it could no longer be controlled.
The measure also would restrict government's ability to seize private property for water projects and would grant new compensations to owners when their property is taken.
Backers of the League measure said they tailored their effort to protect homeowners, and they think the Jarvis measure is too broad and includes matters that have little or nothing to do with eminent domain.
"From our perspective, this (Jarvis) measure is an attack on tenants and affordable housing and an assault on the environment," said Tom Adams “Tom Adams” redirects here. For other people known as Tom Adams, see Tom Adams (disambiguation).
Tom Adams (born 1926) is an illustrator most famous for his Agatha Christie paperback cover designs. , president of the California League of Conservation Voters The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) is a nonpartisan lobbying and educational organization which focuses on environmental issues affecting California. .
But Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis association, said he thinks the League's measure was placed on the ballot to "obfuscate To make unclear or confuse. See obfuscator and e-mail obfuscator. " the issue for voters. With two similar competing measures on the ballot, voters may simply reject both out of confusion.
And, he said, the Jarvis measure was ultimately designed to give the strongest protections to property owners, including landlords.
"The initiative, first and foremost, reflects the policy that government should not take property away from one private interest to give to another," Coupal said.
"We do not impact the ability of government to take property for public use -- the traditional roads and highways List of articles related to roads and highways around the world. International/World
And imposing rent controls is just another form of the government taking away value from property, he said.
"These rent regulations are as close to a physical taking as you can possibly get," he said.
John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute The Initiative and Referendum Institute is an organization promoting initiative and referendum in the United States. It maintains a state-by-state history and status report of the Initiative and Referendum system throughout the country. at the University of Southern California The U.S. News & World Report ranked USC 27th among all universities in the United States in its 2008 ranking of "America's Best Colleges", also designating it as one of the "most selective universities" for admitting 8,634 of the almost 34,000 who applied for freshman admission , said that after the 2005 Supreme Court decision, voters in nine states passed eminent-domain reform measures that were purely focused on limiting government power to take property.
But voters rejected similar measures that included "regulatory takings" clauses such as those in the Jarvis measure -- provisions under which governments have to pay property owners every time a zoning or environmental restriction might affect their potential income or property value.
"Based on historically how these eminent-domain measures have done, I think the voters will probably like the idea of protecting property owners," Matsusaka said.
"But when you get into this issue of having to pay people for regulations, it makes people nervous. They know (governments) are short of funds, especially in California. That changes the whole terms of the discussion."
THE CALIFORNIA PROPERTY OWNERS AND FARMLAND PROTECTION ACT
Supporters: Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, Apartment Owner Association of California, California Republican Party The California Republican Party is the California affiliate of the national Republican Party. Its chairman is Ron Nehring and is based in Burbank, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. .
What it does: Prohibits government agencies from taking private residential or commercial property for private development. Ends rent control. Prohibits taking farmland or open space to sell natural resources.
THE HOMEOWNERS PROTECTION ACT
Supporters: League of California Cities, League of California Homeowners, tenants-rights groups.
What it does: Prohibits government from taking homes for the benefit of private development.
BALLOT MEASURES (see text)