Prevent ED (Eminent Dysfunction)
Proposition 98 is not for renters or their friends
By Joe Piasecki 05/29/2008
We see a lot of television commercials these days about ED, which apparently according to Pfizer stands next to depression, irritable bowel syndrome and herpes as one of the most debilitating diseases known to Western society.
At the ballot on Tuesday, you’ll be asked to weigh in on another ED — not the ever-pernicious plague of Erectile Dysfunction, but the oft-cursed ability of the government to seize your home, Eminent Domain.
Since the surprising 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London upheld a city’s right to seize private property in order to give it to another private owner, many Americans have become aroused by the notion of putting legislative checks on government’s power to take their homes or businesses away from them.
In California, various real estate interests and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have responded by placing Proposition 98 on the ballot, which would require that private property be seized only for public uses.
But like many designer drugs, according to opponents of Proposition 98, the property-owner-driven initiative has its share of nasty side-effects, namely the end of all forms of rent control — including Pasadena’s inclusionary zoning ordinance — and a scaling back of renter protection laws dealing with evictions, building safety codes, return of security deposits and even what a landlord can charge for a credit check.
Pasadena currently requires developers either to set aside 15 percent of the housing units they construct for sale or rent below market rates or to pay fees into an account to go toward the construction of affordable housing. Due to this policy commitment, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously in April to oppose Proposition 98.
If Proposition 98 is made law, just about anything that restrains a property owner from turning the greatest possible profit will be illegal, which is why environmental groups and utility agencies have also lined up against it.
Meanwhile, groups such as AARP, the League of Women Voters – California, the League of California Cities and various renters’ rights groups, including the Western Center on Law & Poverty, are backing Proposition 99, a competing ballot measure that also deals with eminent domain.
Proposition 99 also prevents homes from being seized for private use, as is now possible under the Kelo decision.
Supporters of Proposition 98 claim that Proposition 99 doesn’t go far enough — doesn’t call for greater compensation for people whose lands are seized, doesn’t provide enough protections for business owners, farmers and churches.
But there’s a long list of people who say Proposition 98 goes way too far, among them the strange foursome of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Gov. Pete Wilson and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
If both initiatives pass, whichever gets more votes cancels the other out.
During a press conference last month in Pasadena, League of Women Voters – California Government Director Chris Carson and Pasadena affordable housing activist Marvin Schachter (who also serves on AARP’s California Executive Council) accused Proposition 98 supporters of running a deceptive dual campaign: selling 98 to the public as eminent domain reform while promoting it to real estate interests as a way to kill rent control.
A newsletter recently mailed out by the Apartment Owners Association of California lists phasing out rent control as the No. 1 reason to vote for Proposition 98, describing current lawmakers as “Terrorists who hit apartment owners with explosives.”
Of these so-called terrorist acts, eminent domain is but a fraction of their concern.
“The bombs and explosives they are throwing at us,” it reads, “are rent control, unfair eminent domain, inspection laws, building codes, laws that require 60-day notices so tenants can steal more time form you, eviction laws that allow tenants to live rent-free for several months, relocation fees, inclusionary zoning that drives up the price of housing so they have another excuse to justify even more laws (bombs and explosives).”
A report by the Western Center on Law & Poverty concluded that Proposition 98 could very well do all of the above, which would “undo centuries of real property law and consumer/tenant protections.”
For most of us, it seems the choice between 98 and 99 boils down to how much you’re willing to take from your less-fortunate neighbors to feel just a little more secure about your own home.