Friday, May 16, 2008

98 vs 99

On the ballot for the upcoming election are two competing propositions, 98 and 99. Both deal with eminent domain, the power of government to take private property for "public use."

As many of you may already know, in what was probably the least popular U.S. Supreme Court decision of all time, the term public use was defined as any use a government thinks will work better than what is there now. This gave local governments the right to force homeowners to sell their homes so someone else could build shopping centers in their place. Prior to this decision, it was assumed that public use was limited to things like roads, parks, and other, well, publicly owned things.

Propositions 98 and 99 are the latest attempts to fix this injustice, at least within California. Earlier attempts failed because they tried to do more than this one thing. Their authors decided to use the public outrage against the Supreme Court decision as an excuse to have eminent domain redefined their way, by throwing in prohibitions against not just seizures of property, but anything and everything a public agency might do which might affect property values.

Proposition 98 once again goes too far by putting in prohibitions against rent control. This is an unrelated matter that should be dealt with separately, and not lumped in with the eminent domain problem. It's just a sneaky way to pass legislation that wouldn't likely pass if it weren't riding on the coattails of a more popular issue.

Proposition 99 limits itself to seizures of private homes by preventing governments from transferring property for commercial use. It still allows private homes to be taken for public uses like roads or parks, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Prop 99 has the weakness of not protecting churches, farmland, or business property, but it keeps people in their homes, which is the most important issue.

It is especially important here on the Monterey Peninsula, because the city of Seaside seems pretty eager to take away some homes for a hotel development. Either proposition would stop Seaside from doing its dirty deed. However, I'm voting for 99, because rent control is a completely unrelated issue which should be dealt with on its own.