Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 4, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

EMINENT DOMAIN....SPECIAL CALIFORNIA EDITION....Three years ago, in Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled that local governments have the right to seize land under eminent domain even if they intend to turn the land over to a private firm for development. However, nothing in the ruling prevented states from enacting their own restrictions on eminent domain if they wanted to, and several have done exactly that in the years since.

Here in California, though, nobody seems to have the horse sense to get it right. Two years ago the lunatic brigade offered up Proposition 90, which not only restricted eminent domain but also tried to enshrine a longtime wet dream of the property rights movement: demanding government compensation for any restriction on land use. Are you losing money because local yahoos won't let you build an oil refinery in a residential neighborhood? Sue 'em! They need to either give you a permit or else pay you for all your lost profits.

Prop 90 failed. Big surprise. But not by much: if its supporters had just offered a clean eminent domain initiative, it might have won.

So this year they're back. And guess what? They haven't learned their lesson. They're still stuck on offering a "Kelo-plus" initiative. This time it's Prop 98, which not only limits eminent domain but also phases out rent control, probably eliminates affordable housing laws, prevents courts from giving any special deference to state agency findings, increases eminent domain payouts, and prohibits laws that "transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner" — a deliberately vague statement that has the potential to wipe out an immense swath of environmental and land use regulations. It's more subtle than Prop 90, but it's hard to say if it's any less dangerous. (Genuinely hard. There's no telling how the courts will interpret that "economic benefit" language.)

Alternatively, we Californians can vote for Prop 99, a competing eminent domain measure. This one is a clean initiative — no gotchas — but it's so sparkling clean as to be almost useless. It applies only to single-family houses and condos, and even then tacks on a list of five exemptions that, as near as I can tell, effectively guts the whole thing.

So there's your choice, Californians: Prop 98, yet another grab bag of landlord goodies, or Prop 99, which does next to nothing. And in one of those wonderful ballot measure tricks we've come to know and love here, if you're opposed to both propositions then you really need to vote Yes on Prop 99 anyway. It might not accomplish much on its own, but it does overrule Prop 98 if it gets a higher number of votes. And since there's virtually nothing on the June ballot except these measures, you probably don't want to take any chances. There's no telling what kind of turnout the Prop 98 true believers will produce.

Isn't direct democracy wonderful?

Kevin Drum 2:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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Comments


WHERE IS THE PROPOSITIONS TO BAN PROPOSITIONS???!!?

FUCK PROPOSITIONS.

Posted by: California Is Fucked on May 4, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

But... But... But....

I don't like rent control! I'm a renter in California, and I really do think that rents should be determined at market rates. (And that zoning laws should be relaxed so that we can get a lot more development in dense, urban areas -- especially near public transit. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an apartment near the BART in San Francisco if you don't "know a guy who knows a guy"?)

Posted by: Alex F on May 4, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK


Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an apartment near the BART in San Francisco if you don't "know a guy who knows a guy"

No, but there are plenty of empty apartments near BART in Berkeley that would be just as convenient for you. What's that you say? You can't afford to live in them? Maybe you can negotiate something with the landlords who own them. You know, market rates and everything.

Posted by: Schluppy on May 4, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I'm not a fan of rent control either. If that were the only extra goody tacked onto Prop 98 I might even support it. But there's a lot more there.

Also, even though I'm not a fan of rent control, I'm also not a fan of putting prohibitions like this in the constitution. We do too much of that stuff in California, and it's a mess. It should be possible to change laws when circumstances change, but it's nearly impossible to do that after an initiative is passed.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on May 4, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

"how hard it is to find an apartment near the BART in San Francisco"

Geez, give me some straw, why don't you. Rents is San Francisco are already sky high, thank you very much. Exactly what BART are you talking about? There's always vacancies near 16th and 24th streets. Too bad they're in the middle of the squalor of the Mission district. Powell Street? Montgomery Street? Embarcadero? They're all in the financial district - no apartments any way.

Where is this affordable transportation lane of which you speak?

As soon as there's a vacancy, the apartment switches to market rates. If you're opposed to that then you deserve to be screwed over by some speculator who'll jack your rent a thousand dollars in one month to cover the costs of the overpriced price they paid for your apartment building. You could always permanently live in the back of a moving van, I suppose.


Posted by: on May 4, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

1. The town of Pleasant Hill, in the East Bay, redeveloped their downtown about 10 years ago, very successfully. They bought nearly all the affected properties, but had to use eminent domain on a few, I think. Without that tool, the downtown would remain as empty lots and a decrepit bowling alley from 1955. It is much better now, everyone agrees.

2. The eminent domain ruling is being used as an organizing tool by the Norquist-Right. I say that we should drown them in the bathtub (or perhaps the toilet).

Posted by: M. carey on May 4, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Serious question: has there been a California proposition on the ballot in the past, oh, 25 years, that wasn't a Right Wing Nightmare(rm) or just simply stupid?

We should just drop the whole direct democracy thing now. Clearly, we're not smart enough to handle it.

Posted by: craigie on May 4, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, will Prop 98 ban Prop 13? After all, Prop 13 is just rent control for homeowners.

Posted by: craigie on May 4, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Don't most states have legislatures to to do this kind of legal meatball surgery? At least that way you can blame the results on them and not yourself for voting on such silliness.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 4, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"has there been a California proposition on the ballot in the past, oh, 25 years,"

They're going to try and tackle gay "marriage" one more time, too. Anything to empty the pews so the wingnutz can try to force some kind of majority that California clearly doesn't want them to have.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 4, 2008 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Prop 98 will probably die, even if it passes, because of the single subject rule, which was designed for cases such as this, in which the proponents use a popular hook (anti-Kelo) on which they hang lots of other things. The classic case would be a proposition providing improved benefits for veterans or lowered auto insurance rates that also allowed dog racing or abolished rent control.

By the way, the Kelo decision was right. While you can argue about the wisdom of some uses of eminent domain, which have produced corporate giveaways in some cases and uprooted existing communities with dubious results in others, that is a political, not legal dispute. The alternative in Kelo would have been letting the Supreme Court decide what purposes were public enough for local government to decide to spend tax dollars on them--not a very democratic or workable approach, unless you like the jurisprudence of the Lochner era, when courts routinely declared minimum wage and other protective legislation to be unconstitutional. That sounds like judicial activism to me.

Posted by: henry on May 4, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Don't most states have legislatures to to do this kind of legal meatball surgery? "

That's just the problem. The California legislatures won't try to tackle anything controversial. The people have to take matters in their own hands if any progress is to be made. Too bad that the out of town PAC's and corporations have learned to take advantage of the so-called "grass roots" system to twist it to their own advantages.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 4, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

You know, as bad as Prop 98 is, if it only repealed Prop 13, I'd vote for it in a heartbeat, even if it only repealed P13 for commercial property.

You say you don't want rent control, but Prop 13 effectively subsidizes those commercial property owners that have been sitting on their property for 30 years. As such, it has a significant distorting effect on land use, easily as significant as rent control.

Finally, the proposition to outlaw the eating of horse meat has to be considered a stupid prop from the left, I think.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on May 4, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Living in San Francisco, I can attest to the fact that our city would change overnight if rent control were gone. And for the worse. I'm a homeowner so the passage of prop 98 wouldn't directly affect me, but almost everyone else I know is a renter with a landlord itching to raise the rent. And with the housing crash pushing many higher income people out of homeownership and into renting, rents would skyrocket even more than they have already.

It's already difficult enough for people who work in San Francisco to live here. Doubly so for essential but not highly paid services (not highly paid, that is, in comparison to jobs like VP of Engineering), like firefighters and EMT workers. If there were a major disaster where bridges collapsed, there would be no way for emergency workers to get into the city.

There are many aspect to this rent control discussion. It's not just about the abstract question of "should the market control housing prices?", but the more concrete problem of how a city can maintain itself and staff its own services if no one can afford to live there.

Unfortunately, a statewide ban on rent control would be voted in by the people who would be mostly unaffected by it, leaving the rest of us to deal with the consequences.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on May 4, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built."
Immanuel Kant

Posted by: Jet on May 4, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

phases out rent control, probably eliminates affordable housing laws, prevents courts from giving any special deference to state agency findings, increases eminent domain payouts

You make it sound very attractive. Is there any place that rent control and "affordable housing laws" are not self-defeating in the long run?

Posted by: on May 4, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

"Is there any place that rent control and "affordable housing laws" are not self-defeating in the long run?"

Only in a Looneytarian Paradise.

Posted by: on May 4, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

As a homeowner in the Bay Area, and until recently a renter in San Francisco, I take exception to Alex F's assertions about rent control and the lack of housing near BART.

http://www.sfgov.org/site/rentboard_page.asp?id=54501
Units Exempt from the Rent Ordinance:
7. Dwelling units in a building that is at least 50 years old and which has undergone substantial rehabilitation after June 13, 1979, provided that the landlord has filed a petition for exemption on this basis and the Rent Board has determined after a hearing that the building was substantially rehabilitated;

8. Dwelling units that have been permanently removed from rental housing use pursuant to the Ellis Act and Ordinance Section 37.3(d);

9. Live/work units in a building where there has been a lawful conversion to live/work use and a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued after June 13, 1979, and where there has been no residential tenancy in the building of any kind between June 13, 1979 and the date of issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy;

This describes a large swath of housing near BART in the SOMA and Mission districts. As a former resident of the Mission, who lived within walking distance of BART, and found an apartment during the fraction-of-a-point of 0% vacancy rate during the mid-90's tech boom.

Furthermore, within a quarter-mile of my office (that's 1200 feet, a two minute walk) there are thousands of new housing units that didn't exist in the 90's.

And having been through at least two or three residential boom and bust cycles in San Francisco, I can tell you that nothing slows the fall in rental prices when the supply exceeds the demand. It all evens out eventually.

And while we're on the subject, there are several "transit villages" going up around the BART system's stations outside of San Francisco. Fruitvale is one very attractively built and successful project.

http://www.unitycouncil.org/fruitvale/index.htm


Posted by: anonymous on May 4, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

henry: By the way, the Kelo decision was right. While you can argue about the wisdom of some uses of eminent domain, which have produced corporate giveaways in some cases and uprooted existing communities with dubious results in others, that is a political, not legal dispute.

This is fundamentally correct, and it is the reason that most of the subsequent state attempts to refine eminent domain have failed.

Justice Kennedy was correct: the City of New London had to establish that the "public purpose" requirement was met, and they did that.

Posted by: Matthew R Marler on May 4, 2008 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I fat-fingered "ten minute walk" and wrote "two". Well, I'm sure there's more to nitpick in my post...

Posted by: anonymous on May 4, 2008 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

how a city can maintain itself and staff its own services if no one can afford to live there.

Well, if literally "no one" can afford to live there then the price of rents will fall until they can. A more realistic question is do you want the city to have only high-income residents. But this isn't "no one."

but almost everyone else I know is a renter with a landlord itching to raise the rent.

Part of the notion is that eliminating rent control will encourage the construction of more housing if there is strong demand, thus mitigating the effects of the initial price spikes. Granted, moving to an uncontrolled system will cause economic pain at first, the argument goes, but over time this would go away, and you would avoid the distorting effects of mandated pricing.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 4, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

"but over time this would go away, and you would avoid the distorting effects of mandated pricing"

And that's the same social darwinism, shit head "theory and ideology" brain farts that have caused the current economy horror shows these people seem to be so fond of.

Posted by: on May 4, 2008 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting discussion of this over at Volokh.

Proposition 99 - California's Trojan Horse Eminent Domain "Reform" Referendum Initiative:

Sponsored by the California League of Cities and other pro-condemnation interests, Proposition 99 purports to protect property rights against takings but actually provides almost no real protection. ...

It is a clever effort to prevent the backlash against Kelo v. City of New London from forcing the enactment of reforms that will genuinely restrict eminent domain in California.


Posted by: TJIT on May 4, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Henry and Mathew,

The problem is condemnation justified under economic purposes mostly allows the powerful, rich, and politically connected to use the government to do what they could not do by themselves.

Force the less wealthy and less connected out of their homes for the sole purpose of making the developer money.

Kelo, M.I.A. Where is the property-rights campaign debate?

Yet government officials continue to take property and transfer it to politically influential businesses.

Last month, the Missouri supreme court ruled that local governments have the power to condemn property for transfer to private developers.

Earlier this year, federal courts applied Kelo to uphold the condemnation of dozens of homes and businesses in New York City in order to make way for a new NBA basketball arena and luxury housing projects.


Posted by: TJIT on May 4, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

One thing overlooked in the discussion of Kelo is the fact that it effectively gutted most every land conservation easement in the US.

Under Kelo the easement is easily overridden by the fact that developing the property would provide more economic benefits to the governments in the area.

Posted by: TJIT on May 4, 2008 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

If you're not familiar with it, check out Measure 37 in Oregon. It was a nightmare until we quasi-overturned last fall (Measure 49).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Ballot_Measure_37_%282004%29
It's basically the worst of Cali's Prop 98, without the explicit limitations on eminent domain.

Posted by: Tim on May 4, 2008 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

To get the conservatives riled up, you liberal Californicators should all file suit to get the money you could have gotten growing and selling marijuana, if only it were legal ...

Hey, if I can slip in an OT little nugget: Frank Rich has put up a great dig at McCain's own "preacher problem" here at Link

Posted by: NB on May 4, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Well, better than rent control would be suppression of population growth (instead of the idiocy of encouraging it through dependent deductions, child credits etc.) That would suppress demand for housing, always a better way than direct control. But the Right likes population growth to dilute earnings, increase housing demand, mollify the religious nutters, etc.

Posted by: NB on May 4, 2008 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

but over time this would go away, and you would avoid the distorting effects of mandated pricing.

The same crap they tried to pass off when they pulled the energy deregulation scam on us. More competition. Lower prices. Now I pay quadruple what I paid for electricity and there's still no competition in sight. The big power companies make sure of that.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 4, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

And that's the same social darwinism, shit head "theory and ideology" brain farts that have caused the current economy horror shows these people seem to be so fond of.

Actually it's economics 101. Calling it names doesn't make it wrong. Grow up.

The same crap they tried to pass off when they pulled the energy deregulation scam on us. More competition. Lower prices.

Look up "barriers to entry." Building a new apartment building is much easier than building a new electric utility.

Usually I post as a lefty, but this sort of militant economic ignorance pisses me off.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 4, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Usually I post as a lefty,"

And yet right wing bs comes out of you so easily. "Barriers to entry" is right out of the Enron talking points when they were trying to hide their involvement. Concern troll much?

Posted by: Mrs. Peel on May 4, 2008 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Actually it's economics 101.

Only if you're a Bear Sterns executive.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 4, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, a lot of ignorant snark today.

Listen most of the country doesn't have rent control. And so we also don't have things like people chained to a crappy apartment because their old rent-controlled rent is so low, or different tenants in the same building paying hugely different rent rates, or people unable to move into a neighborhood because rent control, while holding down the prices for existing tenants, has pushed new tenants' rates up into the stratosphere. I hear these stories from people in rent-controlled cities and just shake my head.

The one real positive to rent control (aside from the good deal it is for a select few long-term renters) is that it can make neighborhoods more diverse than they would otherwise be. But overall I think any realistic evaluation would have to say it's not a good thing.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 4, 2008 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Usually I post as a lefty,"

Suuure. And I'll bet that you agree with George Bush that it's the Dems fault that gas is $4 a gallon because of ANWR. Sorry, but what you pass off as "Econ 101" is really free-market anarchism.

Posted by: Norman Main on May 4, 2008 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

That well-known wingnut Paul Krugman agrees with me.

And I'll bet that you agree with George Bush that it's the Dems fault that gas is $4 a gallon because of ANWR.

You'd lose that bet.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 4, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Listen most of the country doesn't have rent control."

And there's a reason they call them "fly over states". The fly TO states have different problems than Bible Falls and Hicktown Bend which haven't seen a new face since the buggy whip plant closed down.

Each municipality knows its own needs best and doesn't need you to tell it how to run itself.

Posted by: Norman Main on May 4, 2008 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

Prop 215 was certainly a proposition not from a right-wing crazy and has had many excellent effects, including basically decriminalizing the marijuana trade in California. There's no way the legislature would have ever passed such a thing, and it's been a model for other states as well. So not all CA propositions are bad.

Posted by: blahblah on May 4, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not going to opine on rent control, but as far as economic-development takings go, I love when lefties twist themselves in knots defending a system that is designed to screw working-class and middle-class citizens and benefit developers, Wal-Mart, and sports-team owners.

Posted by: Don K on May 4, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

"I love when lefties twist themselves in knots defending a system that is designed to screw working-class and middle-class citizens and benefit developers, Wal-Mart, and sports-team owners."

And how is that being done exactly? San Francisco has kept out Walmart and other cookie-cutter strip mall schlock shops very effectively, thank you very much. This bill has nothing to do with eminent domain in the long run. The crap they've stuck onto it is the real problem.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 4, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with eminent domain isn't, as Don K pretends, that it is designed for fatcats like George W. Bush to screw over the locals so his co-owners can make him a multi-millionaire. The problem with eminent domain is that it is too often used for exactly that.

There are legitimate reasons why the state may need to have the last word. It has the last word in other scenarios too (courts, the military, taxes). But too often the "conservatives" use the legitimate powers of government, given for the betterment of the populace, to enrich themselves and their cronies.

So, what is the answer? Certainly not the elimination of a legitimate government power. But it is important that the power be used only for the benefit of the people. It's not something that can be fixed with simpleminded sloganeering. It is something that does require that we elect a better class of politician than George W. Bush and the Republicans.

Posted by: the on May 4, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

"I love when lefties twist themselves in knots defending a system"

I love it when righties twist themselves in knots trying to find ways to hide the real intent of the legislative crap they try to pawn off on us. Like "blue skys" and "save our trees" (by cutting them down).

What an ass.

Posted by: Mrs. Peel on May 4, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

"San Francisco has kept out Walmart"

I'm not familiar with the latest news about who's allowed to build what in San Francisco (the fights I remember are near the 101 and "Chavez" street industrial area), but AFAIR there are very few sites that fit Walmart's (and most other modern big-box stores') development program of large parcels (more than half devoted to parking lots) with easy vehicle access.

Then the neighborhood NIMBYs, not necessarily a formal San Francisco prohibition against big box stores, throw up a huge resistance to the new development.

And in my opinion, the NIMBYs tend to be right. Remaking San Francisco into suburban Fresno is wrongheaded, since San Francisco's tourism income greatly exceed that of Fresno's income from all sources.

Posted by: anonymous on May 4, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

This post makes the same mistake everyone else seems to when writing about Kelo. The salient point is not that property was to be condemned and transfered to a private party--that happens all the time in redevelopment. What was different is that the Connecticut urban renewal law does not require a "blight finding" before eminent domain can be exercised. The proposed future use of the property, not its existing condition, is the source of eminent domain power. Under other state's laws, the removal of blight is the public purpose, and legal findings that give a municipality eminent domain authority refer only to current property conditions, not the future use.

Posted by: Ken on May 4, 2008 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

This post makes the same mistake everyone else seems to when writing about Kelo. The salient point is not that property was to be condemned and transfered to a private party--that happens all the time in redevelopment. What was different is that the Connecticut urban renewal law does not require a "blight finding" before eminent domain can be exercised. The proposed future use of the property, not its existing condition, is the source of eminent domain power. Under other state's laws, the removal of blight is the public purpose, and legal findings that give a municipality eminent domain authority refer only to current property conditions, not the future use.

Posted by: Ken on May 4, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

This post makes the same mistake everyone else seems to when writing about Kelo. The salient point is not that property was to be condemned and transfered to a private party--that happens all the time in redevelopment. What was different is that the Connecticut urban renewal law does not require a "blight finding" before eminent domain can be exercised. The proposed future use of the property, not its existing condition, is the source of eminent domain power. Under other state's laws, the removal of blight is the public purpose, and legal findings that give a municipality eminent domain authority refer only to current property conditions, not the future use.

Posted by: Ken on May 4, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

As an Oregonian, I advise Californians to steer clear of any measure that compensates property owners for "loss of value" due to government regulation (aka the law). It's a nightmare that can turn anyplace into Houston and/or bankrupt government (aka us). Unless maybe property owners will also pay the government (aka us), when regulations increase the value of their property. At least that way we could all benefit from earmarks like Coconut Road.

Posted by: jrw on May 4, 2008 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Native Nutmegger here.

Kelo happened because the Resigned-in-Disgrace Governor John Rowland-R stocked the New London development board with his cronies, all of whom were disinterested to the extent that none of whom lived within an hour of New London. (Note: In Conn. terms, an hour away is a looong distance.)

So, I'm here to offer yet another apology for the Fat Fascist. I knew he was trouble 5 years before he got in.

I'd try subjecting him to the Magical Bathtub but the remains would probably get stuck, leaving an insufficient depth of water to do in Norquist.

Posted by: ThresherK on May 4, 2008 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

Why do US capitalists take such a narrow view.

All they see is the value that accrues to them. What about the value they take from another, even a neighbor.

Yo have the land. Say you build a multi-story dwelling, Compensate me for lack of sunlight, possible wind-power, my lost view?

Dig a hole, compensate me for lack of soil moisture, subsidence, insecurity to any future earthquake?

Build a chemical plant, compensate for pollution, smell, soot?

Compensation is a wide two-way street.

No one ever used to compensate for any of that. But we are all neigbors and all live side by side. Of course there have to be compromises and, lately, we are all the better for that. And it's perfectly OK for society as a whole to set guidelines, limitations and even laws over the use of land for everyone's general benefit.

We long ago left behind the idea that anyone had the right to do whatever they wanted. Maybe 250,000 years ago. May be more. Only government still really believes they have that right, to our detriment.

Get real. Get societal.

And, just as an aside, the finding of "blight" can be wholly fictional and at the whim of "government". Look around over the recent past.

Posted by: notthere on May 4, 2008 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know where Ken gets his analysis, and I can't argue with him about Connecticut law, but eminent domain law does not require a finding of blight as far as constitutional law is concerned as a precondition for the government to seize property. Yes, that was the rhetoric that planners and the courts employed back in the 1950s, But if the state wants to build a highway through your community, eminent domain can seize whatever lies in its path.

Which, of course, is true in theory, not practice. The highway never went through South Pasadena and there is no highway to Beverly Hills. Whereas Poletown got leveled for General Motors, just as parts of poorer Los Angeles did for the 105.

My point is that giving the courts the power to decide what is and what a proper purpose is the wrong solution, and one which distorts our political system. I am not defending seizing a low rent store's property to let someone else build a higher rent store in its place, just saying that the solution lies in politics, not newly created property rights.

Posted by: henry on May 4, 2008 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

What is amazing about the debate about eminent domain is how little time is spent on actually discussing instances of supposed eminent domain abuse.

The New London case itself a good example of the absence of information surrounding the issue. Contrary to most published reports, the City of New London's intent was to own the land it sought to acquire; it would lease out portions to both public and private parties. The Fort Trumbull neighborhood the City sought to acquire had been zoned commerical and industrial since the 1920s and 80 percent of the land area was occupied by such uses; non-conforming residential uses occupied only 20 percent of the area. There was also a sewage treatment plant next door to the neighborhood. The City identified 88 percent of the 64 residential parcels as being in poor or fair condition. In other words, this was gritty, run-down, poorly-planned neighborhood that was in need of attention.

Less significantly, but still noteworthy, is that Susette Kelo herself was hardly the little old lady being forced out of her home by the government as portrayed by the property rights crowd. Rather, she owned multiple properties and, given that she was registered to vote at another one her residences until 2005--which conveniently coincides the with the publicity about the case--her Fort Trumbull property likely wasn't her primary residence.

There more good myth-debunking stuff about the Kelo case in an article titled "Dispelling The Myths About The Fort Trumbull Project" (November 6, 2005) in the The Day, the local New London paper.

This should illustrate just how little actual facual evidence is ever considered in these debates eminent domain.

Posted by: Rick T. on May 4, 2008 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK
So there's your choice, Californians: Prop 98, yet another grab bag of landlord goodies, or Prop 99, which does next to nothing.

You left out "do literally nothing", which given that both of these measures are bad laws, and given that the use of eminent domain where the public purpose is to support private development wasn't new with Kelo or, for that matter, even with the 20th Century, and yet the kind of questionable judgement that the New London action that was the subject of the Kelo controversy is characterized as (leaving aside, for a moment, whether that characterization is even true of that specific action) just isn't at all common.

The best control on either local or state government exercise of eminent domain isn't a new State Constitutional Amendment that categorically prohibits broad categories of uses of eminent domain. Its paying attention to local and state government and holding decisionmakers accountable for specific decisions (and paying attention and holding their feet to the fire when stupid things are being debated).

Posted by: cmdicely on May 5, 2008 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Why do you hate California, Kevin?

Posted by: s9 on May 5, 2008 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

No, but there are plenty of empty apartments near BART in Berkeley that would be just as convenient for you. What's that you say? You can't afford to live in them? Maybe you can negotiate something with the landlords who own them. You know, market rates and everything.

Well... talk about serendipity! Yes, just today, after having given up on finding an attractive apartment in San Francisco near the BART, I delivered a check for my first month's rent in an apartment in none other than Berkeley. Seriously.

Exactly what BART are you talking about? There's always vacancies near 16th and 24th streets. Too bad they're in the middle of the squalor of the Mission district.

I wish this were the case! I'm a young guy, just out of college, the Mission would be my #1 first choice to live. Rents are pretty cheap here (relatively speaking)... but you can't find a place. A lot of rooms rent for $750-$1000, but at those prices there are fifty applicants for any room. I don't want to blame rent control -- I have no idea if the apartments are even subject to rent control -- but it sure is weird that supply and demand are so out of whack. And to whatever extent that there is rent control in the city, I would guess it pushes the market in the wrong direction.

As for anonymous 4:40 -- I didn't mean to claim that rent control was causing the lack of rental space. In fact, re-reading my comment, I'm pretty sure I suggested that my best guess was that zoning laws rather than rent control were to blame. But look -- to whatever extent that rent control is a factor in the rental market, it helps out long-term renters at the expense of anyone looking for a place or trying to move, and of course it hurts landlords and developers too. (Though I wouldn't disregard domino-type effects on the rental market -- making the market for some places more fluid would likely smooth out the market over the entire local area).

At any rate, I read anonymous 4:40's comments as a rebuttal of all the doomsayers in the comments above rather than of my post. I don't know how big a factor rent control is in particular markets or areas, but on theoretical grounds (that is, arguments from economic models and from general logic, not based specifically on empirical evidence from California municipalities) I tend to think that rent control is a negative force in rental markets and makes things worse. But if lots of places aren't rent-controlled, it's hard to maintain -- as, say, Steve Simitzis does -- that decontrolling rents would really cause as much harm as he claims.

Posted by: Alex F on May 5, 2008 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

But look -- to whatever extent that rent control is a factor in the rental market, it helps out long-term renters at the expense of anyone looking for a place or trying to move, and of course it hurts landlords and developers too.

BOO HOO HOO HOO HOOO!!!!!

Seriously.

It hurts landlords and developers? And I should give a fuck because ... why? My god. Landlords and developers. Scum of the motherfucking earth. Who can't be a landlord or a developer if they have the motherfucking money and the lack of a fucking soul? Answer: nobody. Everyone is qualified to be a motherfucker. The great thing about being alive is that most people realize that being a motherfucker is a motherfucking fucked up way to fucking live.

Posted by: Berkeley Needs No Alex F on May 5, 2008 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

"at the expense of anyone looking for a place or trying to move, "

Yes. How dare those people living in apartments have the nerve to stay there. Don't they know they should clear out so Alex F. can move in? And if he needs a job, they should all quit so he can get one, too.

Welcome to life, kiddo. You're obviously still wet behind the ears. There will always be 25 people that got there first. You just have to prove why you should be the one they chose. If you can't, it's your fault - not some outside force like "rent control".

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 5, 2008 at 4:05 AM | PERMALINK

Oh! So that's what all those dinner-time cold calls (Sorry, can't talk... My toast is burning!) have been about.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on May 5, 2008 at 4:38 AM | PERMALINK

Eliminate rent control so that the free market will kick in and build more housing???? Yeah, developers will go out and build low income housing over their dead bodies. New housing will be designed for the affluent because top end generates more profit. Look at New York City. The whole place is under reconstruction - for the rich. Hot cities like NY, SF, LA are rapidly becoming playgrounds for the rich. Support personnel are rewarded with long commutes.

Posted by: jen flowers on May 5, 2008 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Wow... I can understand the anger at developers maybe (I don't know any developers, maybe they all suck, they sure do seem to ask for a lot of favors from the government), but aren't landlords just... I dunno... people who own apartments who rent them out?

There will always be 25 people that got there first. You just have to prove why you should be the one they chose. If you can't, it's your fault - not some outside force like "rent control".

If I can't prove to a landlord why he should rent an apartment to me, it's my fault? Geeze, is this how you live your life? You prove to the cashier at the supermarket that he or she should scan your groceries, you prove to the waitress that she should serve you your food, you prove to the airlines that they should sell you a plane ticket? I kind of prefer market transactions... you know, where people offer me a price and I buy at the price or walk away. That's what I want apartment hunting to be like.

(Although, if I were a landlord, I would say that I would have some qualms about renting to "Berkeley Needs No [Me]").

Yes. How dare those people living in apartments have the nerve to stay there. Don't they know they should clear out so Alex F. can move in? And if he needs a job, they should all quit so he can get one, too.

Bizarre. Now, I can understand the arguments for why the owner of an apartment shouldn't be able to raise rent willy-nilly, or why the owner of a company shouldn't be able to up and fire an employee to replace him or her with someone more qualified. But you do see that in these scenarios the tenant who won't pay the higher rent and the employee who sucks at the job are the ones asking for extra-special protections from the government, right? Not, you know, the guy coming along who's better at the job and will pay more for the apartment?

Posted by: Alex F on May 6, 2008 at 4:59 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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