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."