Eminent domain "reform" is a masquerade
It sounds scary. Agents notify a property owner that their land will be taken over by the government. A team of appraisers rushes in to determine value. Over objections, a check is issued and the prior owners are ordered off the property.
The process is called Eminent Domain. The Constitution mentions it in the 5th Amendment: "... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." Eminent Domain is a necessary process for government. It's why you can travel on a straight highway at 60 (okay, 75) miles an hour rather than crawl in a zigzag pattern around properties whose owners refused to sell. It's no coincidence that train tracks cross the nation in a, relatively, straight line. Or that police stations are often located next to fi re stations and city halls.
Recently, after a series of Eminent Domain takings, a debate ensued over the process. These cases resulted in property being taken and then handed over to businesses - which certainly stretched the definition of 'public use'. This is not entirely unusual - lands for railroad tracks and utility lines have often been taken by government to benefit corporate interests. But, suddenly, a movement erupted challenging Eminent Domain.
This movement resembled a revolt against higher powers. Claims that crooked government officials and greedy corporations were seeking to steal suburban homes ran amok. And, certainly, the complicity between governments and businesses through Eminent Domain, privatization and other methods of redistributing our national resources at bargain rates is close to criminal.
But this movement has been seriously corrupted.
In 2006, Proposition 90 appeared on California ballots. Its summary read:
"Should the California Constitution be amended to require government to pay property owners for substantial economic losses resulting from some new laws and rules, and limit government authority to take ownership of private property?" Proponents of the measure argued: "Proposition 90 stops eminent domain abuse and protects the American Dream -the fundamental right of every American to own a home. It prevents government from taking your home or property without your permission and turning it over to powerful developers who want to build strip malls or other commercial projects."
It sounds very anti-business, right? But, it wasn't. While the ballot measure placed limits on Eminent Domain, it also required governments to pay property owners for 'lost value' when their lands were subject to new environmental regulations or more restrictive zoning laws - things that few singlefamily home owners need worry about. So, who would Proposition 90 have most benefited?
Businesses, developers, corporate interests... the exact same groups that the movement questioning Eminent Domain was, supposedly, aimed at. What happened was obvious. Corporate interests had pushed the measure, hoping that people's anger could, through deception, be used against them.
Proposition 90 was narrowly defeated. Certainly, many voters wanted to strike against corporate and government complicity and ended up voting for a measure that would have further wrecked our environment, blighted our communities and bankrupted the state.
The interests who supported this proposition are back again, targeting the June, 2008 election in California and again attempting to tap into the anger of voters with key words and images that cloud the truth. Proposition 98, while reducing governments' Eminent Domain abilities, will also end rent control in California and again threatens environmental and zoning regulations (Proposition 99 will also be on the ballot. This measure is more reasonable and specifically protects owner-occupied homes while allowing exceptions for community improvements).
Conservatives and corporations have, through deception and dishonesty, become skilled at masking their true intentions. It is a corrupt, money-driven system where citizens can be manipulated into voting for one thing while getting the near opposite in return.
Bob Maschi is a member of the San Bernardino County Peace and Freedom Party Central Committee.