California Voters Endorse Eminent Domain Abuse

Voters in California yesterday overwhelmingly supported Proposition 99, a ballot measure that will significantly empower state and local officials to seize private property via eminent domain, and rejected Proposition 98, which would have protected property rights and ended rent control. As legal scholar Ilya Somin noted in the Los Angeles Times, Proposition 99, though masquerading as a defense of private property, was actually sponsored by groups representing counties, cities, and other redevelopment interests who drafted it specifically to counter Proposition 98. Among other crimes, Proposition 99 will protect only owner-occupied residences from condemnation, leaving apartment buildings and other rental properties wide open for abuse. Moreover, as Somin observed:

Even the protection for homeowners covered under Proposition 99 is likely to be ineffective, because the measure allows the condemnation of owner-occupied homes if they are "incidental" to a "public" project. This means that homes could still be taken for transfer to private developers if the proposed project allocated some space for a "public" facility such as a community center or library.

Proposition 98, on the other hand, would have placed significant limits on such abuse. But while that might have gone over with the voters, ending rent control was far less popular, even though the law would only affect rent controlled apartments once they became vacant, thus leaving current tenants unaffected. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came out against Prop. 98, however, claiming it "would undermine California's ability to improve our infrastructure."

Finally, as the Pacific Legal Foundation's Timothy Sandefur has warned, Prop. 99 will "make things far worse not only by providing fake protection, but because the courts would interpret it as meaning that Californians did not want more serious protections for property rights."

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  • ||

    Omfg guys, get real. This is the best thing we could get for the time being. You don't think the abolition of rent control is actually going to fucking pass a real referendum?

    What the writers of 99 need to to do is write a new proposition that provides more actual eminent domain protection while being politic about the other positions.

  • ||

    So essentially the voters decided that it's okay for someone to steal your property just so long as they get the government to do the actual stealing. Nice.

  • ||

    It's no surprise to me. California voters are products of the California school system. Not exactly a bastion of critical thinking.

  • ||

    Since you're not going to get your absolutist anti-redevelopment reforms, and since reforms that move in the "right" direction are actually "making things far worse," then I guess you should just lay off the issue entirely.

    the courts would interpret it as meaning that Californians did not want more serious protections for property rights Apparently, they don't.

  • Taktix&#174||

    Here's you're direct democracy in action, idiots!

    A deceptive proposition crafted in a way that tricks voters into supporting something the ostensibly don't support.

    Can this day get any better?

  • Episiarch||

    People are amazingly stupid about rent control. Rent controlled apartments raise the rent on non-rent controlled ones as owners try to make up the difference.

    However, it's not just kooky Kalifornian stupidity. I guarantee you that a vote to end rent control in NYC would fail, even though most people do not benefit from it and those that do have obscene deals that usually make their friends and neighbors incandescent with rage and jealousy, such as $300/month for a 3-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, while the next apartment over is $3000 (or more).

  • ||

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came out against Prop. 98, however, claiming it "would undermine California's ability to improve our infrastructure."

    Arnold: conservative crusader. I just saw something recently comparing the California deficit (or was it state debt) between the disgraced, recalled, Gray Davis, and his "conservatarian" replacement.

  • ||

    California - The Monkey Cage State™.

    "You 49.9% over there, sorry, but we win. Hand over the keys, please."

  • ||

    I despise rent control (not least because of its violation of property rights), but does anyone have an idea as to why abolishing rent control was included in Proposition 98? It sounds like a poison pill measure to sink the bill; throw out 98 as a coherent law protecting property rights with an unpalatable rider (ending rent control), and counter it with an anodyne and toothless alternative to divide the votes. Did the law's opponents get to write Proposition 98, too?

  • shecky||

    Taktix gets it.

    My observation is that among the very few who even knew there was an election, Prop 99 was largely believed to stop eminent domain abuses. No doubt due to a successful campaign.

    Regarding prop 98, the marriage of stopping eminent domain abuse with ending rent controls was boneheaded enough to make me think the sponsors are really in favor of eminent domain and rent control. Are all-or-none initiatives really the best way to sell policy?

    Lastly, I still am pretty shocked at how badly Arnold has done in office. I actually opposed his ouster of Davis on grounds that it was merely a circus act to replace a perfectly average politician with the personality of a log, with a widely admired politician/actor. But for fuckssakes, I didn't think he'd be as craptacular as he's turned out to be.

  • ||

    Many of you may have forgotten that the voters of the People's Republic of Massachusetts evicted rent control via a 1994 ballot measure.

  • Matthew||

    That's ok. The way things go in California, we just have to wait for the state Supreme Court to decide to overrule the will of the voters as Proposition 22 (2000) was recently tossed aside by extremist judges who know better than the 61% who voted to pass that one.

  • Rick H.||

    some fed:

    I was thinking the same thing (poison pill) myself. Elsewise, how did they think that was a good idea? Mixing up complex issues - one popular, one not - when you're dealing with California voters, is absolutely retarded.

  • robc||

    Im trying to figure out how Prop 99 is any different from the current standard.

    Depending on how CA treated things before, that is either slightly better, slightly worse, or exactly the same.

    Anyone know exactly? If you treat the words "incidental to a public project" in the same way as "public use", then this is no different than under the Kelo ruling.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I still am pretty shocked at how badly Arnold has done in office.

    Judging by his choices of movie scripts and choice in spouse, I'd say Arnie has done exactly as I expected.

  • zoltan||

    Oh christ, a fucking troll from marriagewatch.org? This early?

  • andyinsdca@gmail.com||

    Prop 98 was written by apartment owners as a cover to eliminate rent control. As such, all of the usual leftist organizations came out of the woodwork (AARP, unions, etc) and it went down in flames.

    Prop 99 was written by government and developer hacks as a way to do something without really doing anything.

    Neither fairly addressed eminent domain and should have gone down in flames.

  • Colin||

    Rent control had no business being in a prop against eminent domain. Different issues. It made the prop look fishy.

    It had other problems, too. Supposedly, landlords under this prop would no longer have to return security deposits. I could never find this clause in the prop, but it was one of the big issues the opponents brought up, and was never denied.

    And 98 would not have stopped government seizure, only limited its scope somewhat. What I want is a prop that states the following:

    "The State cannot seize private property."

    Don't understand why it can't be that simple.

  • robc||

    Colin,

    "The State cannot seize private property."

    While I would vote for that, that completely ends ED, which isnt going to happen. I proposal with a well-defined and limited public use would work for me too.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Here's who funded the opposition to 98:

    Opponents spent about $11.3 million, much of it from the League of California Cities, California State Assn. of Counties and California Redevelopment Assn.



    If it walks like duck......

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    I still am pretty shocked at how badly Arnold has done in office.

    He is the worst governor California has ever had, bar none. [insert colorful sentence ala Jamie Kelley here]

    [turns and spits]

    I cannot think of a single politician I detest more. Not even Ted Kennedy or Babs Boxer.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Rent control probably was certainly a factor and probably should not have been a part of 98.

    However, I don't think it was a deciding factor. Rent Control in California is nothing like it is in NYC. In So Cal, you are basically talking about apartments in Santa Monica and a few urban mobile home parks.

    I don't think anyone was deluded, people don't give a crap, unless it's their land.

    John Q is much more concerned with aesthetics and property values than with property rights. Every person I know is okay with Kelo style eminent domain to some degree. It's all situational. If the blight is offensive enough, well, no problema, send in the bulldozers.

  • ||

    The most visible recent eminent domain abuse in the San Diego area was the Gran Havana Cigar Club downtown, a small business condemned and given over to a hotel developer. Prop 99 would do nothing to stop that kind of grab.

    IMO, until something is done to properly define "blight," no reasonable reform is possible in CA, or any other state that uses such a ridiculously vague standard.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Im trying to figure out how Prop 99 is any different from the current standard.

    It isn't any different except that it codified all the abuses into law.

    In practice that will mean that a land owner has little or no legal standing to fight back.

  • ||

    In practice that will mean that a land owner has little or no legal standing to fight back.

    There's always the Second Amendment

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    How is it legal for tax supported agencies to spend tax money, forcibly extracted from the wallets of the general public, to lobby for or against legislation?

  • Ayn R. Key||

    The ACLU of Souther California backed this anti-liberty message. Be sure to call them and ask them why they hate liberty and affordable housing. Be sure to call them at (213) 977-9500 and ask them why they hate the poor so much.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    Extensions 205 or 201 are probably the best extensions to use to ask the ACLU-SC why the ACLU opposes liberty.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    To clarify, ACLU-SC backed "No on 98."

  • ||

    John Q is much more concerned with aesthetics and property values than with property rights.

    It seems as if I hear, on an almost daily basis, some imbecile nattering about what other people should be "allowed" to do with their property.

  • Rhywun||

    Rent Control in California is nothing like it is in NYC.



    And rent control in NYC is nothing like the picture people have in their head of it.

    There's a reason the mythical "$300 three-bedroom in Manhattan" is always occupied by an octogenarian: that type of rent control ended many years ago. The newer type ("rent stabilization") is much more modest. I've looked at a few and the rents were the same as market rents. I almost took one last year but I'm glad I didn't as my non-stabilized rent went up less than one percent this year, as opposed to 4% or so that the stabilized folks got. But I think that's because I live in a non-glamourous neighborhood. When I lived in Manhattan the rent was going up 10 to 12% a year.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Regarding prop 98, the marriage of stopping eminent domain abuse with ending rent controls was boneheaded enough to make me think the sponsors are really in favor of eminent domain and rent control. Are all-or-none initiatives really the best way to sell policy?

    We had an initiative similar to 98 in a recent election. In that case, too, the proponents of the initiative overreached, giving the opponents ammunition to defeat it.

    I'm not sure if it was sponsored by the same folks, but in both cases I suspect the proponents were just politically tone deaf. Maybe they have so little interaction with neutral to liberal voters that they just failed to anticipate how others would perceive the language of their proposition.

  • ||

    How is it legal for tax supported agencies to spend tax money, forcibly extracted from the wallets of the general public, to lobby for or against legislation?

    Best question I have read yet. This is something I'd love to look into.

  • Mike Laursen||

    How is it legal for tax supported agencies to spend tax money, forcibly extracted from the wallets of the general public, to lobby for or against legislation?

    It's definitely illegal in California. Did something like that occur in this election?

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Gene, as far as I know the three agencies below that spent millions to defeat 98 are tax supported. The money comes from the member organizations, which are cities and counties, which are supported entirely by taxes. I'd be happy to learn I am wrong, but I don't think I am.

    Isn't that illegal?

    Opponents spent about $11.3 million, much of it from the League of California Cities, California State Assn. of Counties and California Redevelopment Assn.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Mike: see above comment at 1:11.

    There's always the Second Amendment

    Hugh, a nice thought, and if you had a terminal illness that coincided with the thieving government minions trying to exercise eminent domain on your domicile, it'd be a great way to go out.

    However, they have all the really cool weapons so they *are* going to win. And they will carry your smoking corpse out to ensure coverage on Eyewitless News at Ten.

  • ||

    Prop 98 was a pure play anti takings measure. Prop 99 was do nothing. The contrast was like night and day. However, the sad fact is that 90% of the Calidumbshit population have no clue regarding the issue of takings, and therefore, did not recognize Prop 98's mission. It's a microcosm of the latter day, declining and falling US. The average dipstick does not understand the Constitution, does not value property rights, and has utterly no clue regarding anything even remotely strategic.

  • ||

    The lesson here is to stop trying to sneak in issues outside of what your proposition is advertised as.

    Everybody I know that voted against 98 did so because of the idiotic rent control portion. If you want to end rent control, do so with its own proposition and do it honestly.

    I support the abolishment of rent control but not these kinds of underhanded and self defeating tactics.

  • tarran||

    And they will carry your smoking corpse out to ensure coverage on Eyewitless News at Ten.



    And accuse you of abusing your children or committing sex-crimes. It's amazing how almost every time some guys is squashed like a bug in a high profile "police action", government officials the guy is suspected of it.

  • tarran||

    This is what happens when I try to multi-task. OK trying again:

    And accuse you of abusing your children or committing sex-crimes. It's amazing how almost every time some guy is squashed like a bug in a high profile "police action", the media is full of reports concerning the guy's suspected child abuse or perversions.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Mike: see above comment at 1:11.

    Ah. A Google search shows several city council minutes where California cities do indeed pay dues to the League of California Cities.

    I'm not sure what California law says about advocating when it is one step removed from the actual public agency. I know from personal experience that it's definitely illegal for a public school board to directly engage in advocacy for a funding measure.

  • ||

    To our Californicators: How bad did the anti-98/pro-99 propaganda get? Was it as bad as property tax limit measures, where the opponents tell you that there won't be enough money for schools, public libraries, police and fire departments if this intitiative passes?

    "Your children will be uneducated reprobates who can't read! Your houses will burn down and violent criminals will freely roam the streets if this measure passes!"

  • Mike Laursen||

    I don't think I received a single mailer from either side. I haven't watched much TV, lately, so I'm not sure what kinds of ads were on.

  • ||

    People living in areas under the thumb of the California Coastal Commission already had zero property rights. I guess the rest of the state gets to join the party, now.

    It probably won't have a huge impact in the short term, though. Now that "Condo-mania" has subsided, New London-style thievery will probably wane for awhile, though I can see local officials dreaming up all kinds of ways to enrich their commercial developer buddies at the expense of taxpayers and property owners.

  • californian||

    What Beb wrote above is exactly right. Practically everyone I know voted no on 98 because of the rent control provision, and yes on 99 to "Stop Eminent Domain" (none of them bothered to read either proposition).

    As to the propaganda: There were a few television / radio spots, but nothing overwhelming. Locally though, there were yes on 99 and no on 98 signs everywhere in my neck of the woods. It was also just about impossible to go in to any store without someone proselytizing about the evils of prop 98 / virtues of 99 for the last couple of months.

  • ||

    How bad did the anti-98/pro-99 propaganda get?



    Somehow they got my email address and managed to spam me once or twice a day with their tear-jerking website: www.no98yes99.org.

    Other than that I saw several TV spots promoting 99 and opposing 98, but never really saw anything promoting 98.

  • ||

    IMO, until something is done to properly define "blight," no reasonable reform is possible in CA, or any other state that uses such a ridiculously vague standard.

    And "public use."

    I worked in a planning office when the Kelo decision came down, and we all wished O'Connor's dissent had been the majority opinion.

  • me||

    "It sounds like a poison pill measure to sink the bill; throw out 98 as a coherent law protecting property rights with an unpalatable rider (ending rent control), and counter it with an anodyne and toothless alternative to divide the votes."

    That's exactly right. All my knee-jerk liberal friends voted no on 98 and yes on 99, purely because of the rent control issue. Goddamit.

  • robc||

    One man's "blight" is another man's "returning part of a city block to nature".

  • ||

    I've talked to people who said that getting rid of rent control would throw poor people out on the street. Yet you can count the number of cities in California with rent control on one hand. Most renters are NOT under rent control of any form.

  • ||

    I had a five minute discussion with my (one-year-away-from-voting) son about props 98 and 99 as he accompanied me on the way to the polling place yesterday.

    I explained to him that the core of Prop 98 was to say that the government could not appropriate property or the use/ownership of it to reassign the appropriated benefit to a private party; that all such appropriations were to be for the government to use directly for public purposes and facilities.

    One implication (which was also made explicit in the proposition text) was that rent control would be abolished because it constrained the landlord's ownership/use of the property to benefit private parties (the renters).

    He understood this perfectly. I said that many people were uncomfortable with this, and free-market discipline couldn't work correctly to minimize rents unless we also addressed issues of zoning and the construction permit process, but that I felt it would be better to pass part of the solution and work on the rest than to go the wrong way, which where I felt Prop 99 was headed.

    I then went on to explain that the Prop 99 campaign was actually funded in large part with TAX REVENUES by a consortium of local government groups (as shown in recent reporting by the OC Register and others). This is about as illegal and unethical as it gets, yet the Prop 99 folks had the gall to say that Prop 98 and its campaign were "deceptive," not fully informing the public of the anti-rent-control provision. In fact, anyone who spent two minutes reading the official voter pamphlet, WHETHER THEY READ THE ACTUAL TEXT OF THE MEASURE OR NOT, would have understood the main aspects of 98 including the rent-control angle. The only way that the Prop 98 campaign could be considered "deceptive" was to assume that people got their voting info ONLY from word-of-mouth and 30-second ads on TV. Any such voters wouldn't deserve the franchise, in my opinion. On the other hand, the Prop 99 guys kept trotting out oldsters and other disadvantaged folks, who alleged that their rent-control would end and they would be kicked out of their homes if Prop 98 passed. Again, reading the ballot pamphlet for just a handful of minutes makes clear that anyone now enjoying rent-control would continue to do so until they moved elsewhere. So the claims that people would be tossed into the street were indeed deceptive, if not out-and-out lies.

    Finally, 99 contained a nullification provision, such that if it won by a bigger margin than 98 did, it would cancel 98. The 99 campaign spent a lot of time and effort to instruct people to vote for 99 as a fail-safe way of defeating 98, when the prudent voter might have otherwise voted "no" on each, as an invitation to the partisans to come back with something better in a future election. Instead, we are now stuck with goofy faux-reform of eminent domain.

    As a renter, someone from the "baby boom" generation who is NOT lucky enough to own a home in his home region of the country, I am disgusted with this outcome. I wonder how many native Californians (or "immigrants" of longstanding) voted with the majority. This smacks of "transient/transplant" self-interest and/or irrationality.

    It is clear that we have a lot of work to do, to dispel the "rent control is good" meme. But we really need to do it, or we're likely to get more garbage like Prop 99 in the future. Gad. I am so embarrassed for the State of my birth.

  • ||

    Californian wrote,

    "What Beb wrote above is exactly right. Practically everyone I know voted no on 98 because of the rent control provision, and yes on 99 to "Stop Eminent Domain" (none of them bothered to read either proposition).

    "As to the propaganda: There were a few television / radio spots, but nothing overwhelming. Locally though, there were yes on 99 and no on 98 signs everywhere in my neck of the woods. It was also just about impossible to go in to any store without someone proselytizing about the evils of prop 98 / virtues of 99 for the last couple of months."

    I got a bitter laugh out of watching a recent "duckspeak moment" at a recent Supervisoral candidate's forum here in Santa Cruz, where the incumbent came to the point of addressing eminent domain and rent control, and concluded with, "So we have to vote YES on 98 and NO on 99."

    There was an awkward pause, while some arch-liberal supporters of this candidate in the audience explained that she had gotten it exactly backwards, that the politically correct thing to do was vote NO on 98 and YES on 99. She recovered and went right on, saying that this was an example of how complicated the issue and the ballot proposition situations were. Ha ha ha, moving on...

    My God. If our elected officials (incumbents re-elected at least once!) don't know enough about the key issues or the matters we are supposed to be deciding, and if they can't maintain the presence of mind to keep those issues sorted out at CANDIDATE FORUMS, why are they drawing $100K+ salaries? Why do we put them in charge of huge piles of tax revenue, not to mention our behavior?

    Of course, this incumbent candidate won re-election yesterday with 70% of the vote -- about the vote percentage that Yes on Prop 99 and No on Prop 98 garnered locally, not-so-coincidentally enough. These voters definitely got the representation they deserved. Yessir.

  • ||

    Reading a few other comments more closely, I have to disagree with the idea that rent control was a different issue than eminent domain: they are both takings, which was the point of 98. Again, the irony was that the Prop 99 people said that the 98 folks were being sneaky and deceptive in fusing rent-control with eminent domain abuse. But rent-control IS a form of eminent domain abuse, just as surely as, for instance, minimum-wage laws are a form of price control. The sneaky thing would have been to not mention rent control at all, and let the implications of the anti-takings language become evident over time. Instead, the 98 people had the courage and honesty to mention rent control as an explicit corollary to the anti-takings provision, and they were hung out to dry for "putting together" issues that had been artificially and dishonestly separated in the first place.

  • Not a Libertarian||

    I love reading all the California bashing. Don't hate us because we're beautiful... (sour grapes!)

    It just goes to show you that there are more places to inhabit than just THIS WEB SITE where you are completely surrounded by idiots.

    By the way, some of us Republicans DID vote for Prop. 98.

  • ||

    james anderson merritt-

    Your son is fortunate. I pray that he heed your counsel and example.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I have to disagree with the idea that rent control was a different issue than eminent domain: they are both takings, which was the point of 98.

    I agree. It's logically consistent if you are drawing up a comprehensive anti-takings initiative to include prohibition of rent control.

    And my guess is that is exactly why the proponents of 98 included it. Not because someone intentionally snuck in a "poison pill", as somebody above put it. However, by including the rent control provisions, the proponents showed that they weren't very astute at the game of politics.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Or to put it another way, the 98 backers put Spock in charge instead of Kirk. Libertarians make that mistake all the time.

  • shecky||

    In So Cal, you are basically talking about apartments in Santa Monica and a few urban mobile home parks.

    This is another curious factor with Prop 98. Why should folks in, say, Modoc County have a voice in rental policies of Santa Monica? Rent control is irrelevant to the vast majority of people in CA. It would be similar if, for example, Santa Monica could impose it's zoning laws on the rest of the state.

    Not that I'm fond of rent control. I just find it more of a tyranny-of-the-majority scenario.

  • ||

    Regarding rent control, consider it as if you owned all of the rental properties in San Francisco. You have to make enough money to cover the return on the investment for the total value of the properties. To do this, you need to charge a higher rent to each renter to counter those renters that stay in one place for long periods of time. Also, to offset those renters, you need to minimize maintenance costs. So everyone pays a premium to pay for those that stay longer and everyone has very basic, sometimes very run-down, and sturdy interiors. Competition isn't important, contractors and real-estate prices are higher, and all because of a fear that some people will be treated poorly by a free market.

    It's bad for renters, but they just don't get that a free market will always provide a better product at a lower price than a heavily regulated one.

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