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Proposition 90: No ...

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Name: Michael Patrick
Location: San Jose, California, United States

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Saturday, November 4


Proposition 90: No

sign, Ryland Street, San Jose, March 12, 2006

A sign protesting eminent domain abuse sits in front of an older, single-family house across the street from San Jose's Legacy Fountain Plaza apartments.

I've heard very little public dialogue about Proposition 90--and that's sad. Almost any discussion has focused on the part about its controls on eminent domain abuse, but it's dangerously so much more than that.

A conscious voter wouldn't support a measure with both good and destructive components with the intention of enjoying what little good may result. This is why Proposition 90 is such a bad deal.

The measure has two very notable components. One portion, restricting private property seizures through eminent domain, is a natural response to the great public disapproval over last year's related US Supreme Court decision; meanwhile, tacked onto the measure (which originated outside California--so much for California initiative's populist intentions) is what is effectively a moratorium on instituting simple, everyday land use regulation that allows communities to enjoy planned, orderly development while retaining local character.

If Californians approve Proposition 90, say goodbye not only to eminent domain abuse; watch your community's sense of harmony and quality design--or, alternatively, tax dollars--slip away.

In my work as a municipal planner (and I speak as an individual, not as a representative for my employer), I see how important goals, supported by the community and their elected officials, would be not possible to achieve under the restrictions of Proposition 90. Protection of local agricultural economy and its land supply would be severely hindered by this initiative. Neighborhoods finding a growing need to preserve their character could not appeal to their local officials to set rules on change. A community would have reduced ability to expect large developments to compensate for their impacts on the community, e.g., set aside land for schools and parks or pay fees for infrastructure improvements.

Under Proposition 90, these barriers would all appear unless the local government chooses to pay off a small group of private citizens. In order simply to legislate as it has for years, government would have to redirect its taxpayer funding away from benefits like well-maintained roads, libraries open at convenient hours, etc., and instead send it toward private landowners or developers who demand "compensation" for new, Proposition 90-blessed claims of "economic damage" resulting from beneficial, public-interest regulation American communities have practiced and enjoyed since the dawn of zoning in the 1920s. Whereas now cities and counties can simply tell builders of noisy factories and brightly-lit shopping centers not to locate next to residential neighborhoods, the same action after Proposition 90 would require payment of tax dollars to a few landowners--assuming government doesn't just give up and waive regulations.

And exactly how much compensation could these landowners or developers demand? That would be determined by lawyers--many lawyers--arguing over the true meaning of the Proposition 90's vaguely-written language on "just compensation." Local government has a choice--take part in this expensive game of lawsuits or forgo instituting and enforcing otherwise reasonable regulaton altogether.

Wish to regulate and prevent arising nuisances that threaten local welfare? Wish to see your town not develop into an ugly free-for-all of a mess? Wish to prevent the fragmentation and diminishing of America's most productive farmland?

Vote no on Proposition 90.

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