Get a Building Permit, Get Disenfranchised: Business as Usual in California


Via Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy, this bit of officious ridiculousness from California being challenged in court this week before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Pacific Legal Foundation. From an account by Timothy Sandefur, who will be arguing the case for PLF, at the PLF blog:

Griswold v. City of Carlsbad….is an astonishing case in which city officials forced the Griswold family to give up their constitutionally protected right to vote in exchange for a building permit. Hard as that might be to believe, it is actually not unique: it's actually quite common for local governments to abuse permits by forcing property owners to give up money or land or other rights.

Here's how the law works. Under the California Constitution, property owners are entitled to vote on whether their property should be assessed for local "improvements"–things like street lights or sidewalks. These are technically not taxes, but "assessments," and the state Constitution prohibits the government from imposing these assessments without giving affected property owners an opportunity to vote on them. But what the city of Carlsbad decided to do was to force people to pay these assessments up-front (which is illegal). And if the owner can't afford this–in the Griswolds' case it was almost $115,000–then the owner must sign an agreement giving up the right to vote on these assessments (large PDF file). And this waiver actually runs with the land, meaning anyone else who buys the property is also not allowed to vote…..

Sadly, local governments frequently force property owners to give up rights in exchange for these kinds of permits. What this means is that the government is essentially confiscating a person's property, and then selling it back to that person in exchange for their rights…….

You can learn more about the Griswolds' case by reading our media backgrounder.

Somin at Volokh Conspiracy has some thoughts on how this case should go, given existing Supreme Court precedent:

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Supreme Court decided a series of cases that set limits to the power of government to use threats to development rights to force owners to give the government uncompensated takings (for example by banning development unless the owner gives the government a free easement). I discuss those cases in this article (pp. 10-13). Essentially, the Court ruled that local governments cannot use the threat of regulation to force owners to give up their constitutional right to compensation for the taking of their property. Presumably, the same logic should apply to government efforts to extort citizens into giving up their constitutional right to vote.