Sunday, April 27, 2008

June 2008 California proposition recommendations

In the second of our three elections this year (June 3rd), we are faced with just two propositions, and they are evil twins.

Prop. 98. I’m not sure why the proponents of this measure have been allowed to present it as being primarily about eminent domain, since it seems to be more of a Trojan Horse plan to eliminate rent control and local requirements that developers provide low-cost housing, and for this reason alone 98 should be opposed. In fact, even people who oppose rent control should oppose this initiative, which infringes on the rights of communities to make these decisions for themselves.

98’s main eminent domain provision bans the seizure of property for non-governmental purposes, which is simply not a problem in California: there are legal safeguards in place now. My favorite bit in the pro-98 argument is that it would stop the seizure of homes, family farms... and places of worship. Has there been a wave of churches being compulsorily purchased by local governments, demolished, and turned into strip clubs by the cronies of city councilmembers, and I just haven’t heard about it?

I should point out that the anti-98 argument talks about “hidden provisions” that would gut environmental laws, but they must be quite well hidden: I read the fine print and couldn’t find them. However, some of 98’s wording seems awfully vague, and would no doubt keep lawyers busy for years to come. (Update: I’m informed that the provision banning laws which “transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner” are intended to allow judges to overturn environmental and land-use laws, on the theory that if I’m not allowed to build a casino, the economic benefit of not living next to a casino is transferred to my next-door neighbor. Sneaky.)

The pro side’s website has a rather wonderfully over-the-top radio ad in which one child explains to her brother that the city is throwing them out of their house to build a mall. “You mean we’re never gonna see our friends again?”

So vote No. Vote to throw those kids out of their house, because they seem kind of annoying and their friends probably don’t really like them anyway.

Prop. 99. Another eminent domain initiative, in a battle to the death. This one is much narrower, with no rent-control ban, and the only form of property it protects from being seized for private purposes through eminent domain is single-family houses – the wrecking ball can still come for those churches, I guess. This part of the measure seems harmless.

99 is also a Trojan Horse. The problem of family housing being seized and handed over to private developers is close to non-existent, and it is not the real reason Prop. 99 was put on the ballot. Instead, the important provision is the one that says that if both 98 and 99 passes and 99 has more votes, no part of 98 (i.e., the rent control ban) becomes law. Which is enough reason to vote Yes.

Neither of these initiatives should have been allowed onto the ballot. Initiatives are not supposed to include multiple issues unrelated to each other, which 98 does. And while initiatives can be written to cancel out provisions in another initiative on the same subject, 99 purports to be able to cancel out provisions in 98 on subjects (rent control, low-cost housing) which 99 does not address, which may not stand up in court.

Comments welcome.

(Update: the voters of California perspicaciously followed my advice. How often does that happen? 98 got only 39.1%, 99 got 62.4%)

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