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  The Abuse Of Property And Logic
Proposition 90
by Gary M. Galles [author, academic] 11/3/06

Proposition 90, the “Save our Homes” initiative, would rein in abuses of eminent domain and regulatory takings of property.   Not surprisingly, those exercising or benefiting from that power oppose its restrictions on government theft.  However, their arguments are unconvincing.

Opponents say it will eviscerate environmental and other protections.  But it exempts all existing laws and regulations, so that no current protections are threatened.  Only new abuses are constrained. 

Gary M. Galles

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

 Opponents ignore Proposition 90’s exceptions for public safety and health and controlling nuisances, the traditional areas where government action could actually be justified as advancing the general welfare.  It only restricts government plunder of its citizens, revealing special interest favors at property owners’ expense for what they really are.

Opponents claim Proposition 90 would paralyze government, objecting that “the community expects us to be responsive and represent their interests.”  But this assumes that political majorities have an unlimited right to take from others for their benefit whenever they choose.  No one seriously believes that, unless only other people’s property will be violated. 

Opponents say Proposition 90 will cause planning chaos.  But the only planning restricted is based on theft.  Further, that theft increases the uncertainty—the chaos--facing potentially “targeted” property owners as they try to plan. The abuses it halts do not avoid chaos; they impose it on others.

Government entities fighting Proposition 90 also make claims that are mutually inconsistent.  They claim to seldom use eminent domain, but that restricting it would destroy their ability to ”do good.” If one claim is true, the other is false.

Opponents trot out the specter of horribly incompatible land uses.  But they ignore that land costs in valuable locations preclude the lower value uses they try to scare voters with.  There is also the counter-example of Houston, which for years had no zoning, without such problems.

Proposition 90 applies to government-imposed changes that lower property values from what they were, such as down-zoning.  But if planners are so hyper-competent that their choices must overrule everyone else’s, why should they ever have to downzone properties from what they previously approved?  That must represent either a planning failure or a new robbery.

Opponents’ claim that taxpayers will have to pay off “wealthy landlords and corporations” under Proposition 90 is equally distorted.  That could only happen for those government restrictions have stolen from.  Refusing to make them whole asserts that they must accept the theft, replacing equality before the law with a regulatory caste system.

It is hard to object to making property owners whole instead of victims.  But Proposition 90’s opponents spin it as threatening taxpayers with billions in new taxes.  It would only restore the principle of people paying for what they benefit from.  Either taxpayers should pay more to cover the costs, or the inefficient policies should be abandoned. 

Opponents also demonize Proposition 90 backers as anti-government.  They are actually only anti-government to the extent they are anti-theft.  But everyone should oppose government theft.

Opponents object that Proposition 90 might be subject to an overbroad interpretation.  That is ironic, because the abuses it constrains arose from overbroad interpretations of government powers and vague laws that created wiggle-room for such interpretations, both of which they have routinely advocated.

Opponents’ fallback defense is that while they reject Proposition 90 (for fairy-tale reasons), they support “well-designed” eminent domain reform.  However, they provide no indication of what they would accept as “well-designed.”  And with no solution from the legislature (attempts at which they opposed), the actual alternative is not a well-designed alternative, but the status quo, including all the current abuses.

Since Proposition 90 restricts government theft, it is unsurprising that the thieves and their accomplices oppose it.  But the arguments they make, seriously considered, clarify why voters should support it.  Of course, that conclusion could also be reached simply by heeding “Thou shall not envy” and “Thou shall not steal.” CRO

copyright 2006 Gary M. Galles



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