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My Los Angeles Times Op ed on California Proposition 99 and Eminent Domain "Reform":

In today's LA Times, I have an op ed criticizing California Proposition 99, the eminent domain "reform" initiative sponsored by pro-condemnation interest groups that pretends to protect property rights, but would actually do far more to undermine them. Here's an excerpt:

The U.S. Supreme Court created a huge political backlash when it ruled that local governments could use eminent domain to seize private property and transfer it to other private owners for "economic development." Since the Kelo ruling in 2005, 42 states have enacted limitations on eminent domain — not always effective ones. But like lawmakers in many other states, some California officials are trying to block real eminent domain reform.

On June 3, Californians will vote on Proposition 99, a ballot initiative sponsored by groups representing cities, counties, redevelopment agencies and other pro-condemnation interests. It purports to protect property rights against eminent domain, but it actually provides almost no protection....

Proposition 99 . . . protects only owner-occupied residences against condemnations with the purpose of transferring property to "private persons." That leaves renters — 42% of Californian households — unprotected. If the buildings they live in are condemned, renters can be forced out even if their leases haven't expired. Owners of farms, small businesses and homeowners who have lived in their residences for less than one year also would remain vulnerable.

Even the protection for homeowners covered under Proposition 99 is likely to be ineffective...

Also on California's June ballot is Proposition 98, which really would forbid "economic development" condemnations and other abuses. Absent Proposition 99, Proposition 98 would likely become law — as have anti-Kelo initiatives in 10 other states. Proposition 99 would invalidate any other eminent domain referendum passed on the same day so long as 99 receives a greater number of votes than Proposition 98. Many voters are unlikely to realize this.

Due to tight space constraints, I didn't have room to say much about Proposition 98, the far more effective eminent domain reform initiative that Prop 99 was put on the ballot to block. Fortunately, Tim Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation has recently published an excellent op ed addressing most of the standard objections to Prop 98. The use of Prop 99 to block effective eminent domain reform by exploiting political ignorance is part of a broader pattern common to many states, one that I have discussed in much greaterdetail in this academic article on post-Kelo eminent domain reform.

If time permits, I will have more to say about Propositions 98 and 99 over the next few days. It's hard to fully consider these complex initiatives in a 600 word op ed.

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