Dueling propositions over eminent domain

May 29, 2008 7:24:09 PM PDT
Experts are predicting a low voter turnout for the June 3rd election, but there are two dueling propositions on the ballot that could have a big impact on millions of California residents. In this Assignment 7 report, we take a look at the high stakes battle over property owners' rights and the future of rent control.

The City of Oakland is hoping a downtown redevelopment project will boost the sagging economy. However, it cost John Revelli the tire business that had been in his family 56 years.

"From that point forward, I had no job, I had no paycheck, I had no business and I had no building. They took possession of it," says Revelli.

Oakland used the power of eminent domain to force Revelli to sell the city his business. Then they bulldozed the property for a private redevelopment project.

"The laws are slanted against the property owner so that you don't even have a chance," says Revelli.

Proposition 98 is designed to make sure that what happened to John Revelli can't happen again. It would enact severe limits on the government's power of eminent domain.

"Where property is taken from one person to give to another private interest, we feel that that is not within the original intent of either the United States Constitution or the state Constitution," says Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- sponsor of Proposition 98.

Governor Schwarzenegger is against the measure and so is the League of Women Voters.

"It will eliminate protections for renters. It will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to do the kind of regulation of environmental issues, of smart growth planning that Californians expect," says Trudy Schafer, program director for the League of Women Voters.

The League of Women Voters supports 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 -- homes, businesses, farms and churches. Proposition 99 only covers owner-occupied homes. Supporters of Proposition 98 say that extra protection is critical.

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

Proposition 98 may have stronger protections for property owners, but opponents say it would be devastating for many renters because it would eliminate rent control.

"Making it impossible for people who are on fixed incomes like seniors, some disabled folks as well as working families to stay in their homes," says Lauren Wheeler with Just Cause Oakland.

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.

Proposition 98 would also eliminate rent control in mobile home parks. In many communities, mobile homes 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," says mobile home resident Ray Newman.

But supporters of Proposition 98 say rent control is unfair to landlords.

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

"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," says Shafer.

An independent analysis by the University of California Center for Environmental Law and Policy found confusing language in both propositions. The executive director says Proposition 99 would not change most current government practices and Proposition 98 would likely spend years in court.

"My sense is that if Proposition 98 is enacted, we will see a great deal of litigation to address a number of the key ambiguities in that measure," says Richard Frank with the Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

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

More information

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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