A look at Propositions 98 and 99

April 8, 2008 8:39:37 PM PDT
When you go back to the polls in June, there will be only two propositions on the ballot.

But if you're either a renter, or a property owner, there's a lot at stake. Both measures promise to protect property rights, but one will eliminate rent control.

Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that spelled the end of John Revelli's business.

"You can't imagine how powerful that is. And how it can ruin and affect your life," said former business owner John Revelli.

Revelli owned a tire store in downtown Oakland, it was in his family 56 years. But the city wanted his property and an auto shop next door for a redevelopment project.

"Nobody cared. We were just two little guys in the way on 20th Street," said Revelli.

The city demolished the two businesses -- using the power of eminent domain to force Revelli and his neighbor to sell. Now a private developer is building apartments and retail shops where Revelli's tire store once stood.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it, and I hurt," said Revelli.

Eminent domain is usually used to seize land for public projects like roads or schools.

But in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled local governments can also seize property for private projects -- if government officials decide there is a public benefit.

Since that Supreme Court decision, about 40 states have passed laws to limit the government's power of eminent domain.

Many Californians want to do the same, but they do not agree on how far those reforms should go. That resulted in two competing measures on the June ballot: Propositions 98 and 99.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He's supporting Proposition 98.

"A property rights initiative that would prevent government from taking people's property away from them and giving it to someone else, usually under the guise of redevelopment or for the purposes of generating more tax proceeds," said Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The League of Women Voters is against proposition 98. Trudy Schafer is program director.

"It isn't eminent domain reform. It is eminent domain provisions with a lot of other hidden agendas added in," said Trudy Schaefer of the League of Women Voters of California.

The league of women voters is supporting an alternative proposition ? Proposition 99.

Both measures limit government's ability to take private property for private use -- but they are very different.

Proposition 98 protects all kinds of real estate like homes, businesses, farms and churches.

Proposition 99 only covers owner occupied homes. Supporters of 98 say that extra protection is critical.

"Too often we have seen, for example, small businesses being shut out, forced out by other business interests who really had better political connections than the small business person," said Coupal.

But while Proposition 98 has strong protections for property owners, it would end many protections for tenants, including rent control.

"For people who are currently under a rent regulation, those regulations will remain in force as long as those tenants are in the property. But as soon as they move out, those properties will be deregulated," said Coupal.

More than a dozen California cities have rent control laws, including many in the Bay Area. Proposition 98 would phase them out and make it easier to evict tenants and raise the rent.

Robert Potter has lived in his rent controlled apartment in San Francisco for 30 years. He on a fixed income and says there's no way he and many others could pay market rate rent.

"My social security wouldn't -- would pay for the rent if it was full market rent, but I wouldn't eat," said renter Robert Potter.

Proposition 98 would also affect people who live in mobile homes. They own their homes, but rent the land underneath. About 100 California cities and counties have rent control for mobile homes.

In many communities they are a major source of affordable housing -- particularly for seniors.

"If rent control is abolished, you will have a whole new group of homeless people, because all these old folks who have no where to go," said mobile home resident Ray Newman.

But supporters of Proposition 98 say rent control is unfair to landlords and restricts the economic use of their property.

"These rent regulations are about as close to a physical taking as you'll ever see any property regulation," said Coupal.

Proposition 99 would keep rent control as it is now.

"The rent control laws require that a landlord get a fair return on their investment. And so when they talk about what they are being restricted to doing, I think they are talking about being restricted from making unreasonable profits," said Schafer.

In June it will be up to the voters to decide -- whether to pass far reaching protection for property owners, or continue to protect tenants from extreme rent hikes.

If both measures pass the one with the most votes will become law.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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