Two competing propositions that focus on eminent domain and rent control have sparked controversy as local advocates compete for votes in the upcoming June 3 election.
The statewide propositions, 98 and 99, both focus on eminent domain reform legislation that allows the government to seize private property for public use. However, the two propositions take on the issue in drastically different ways.
Proposition 98, which is significantly more restrictive than 99, would phase out rent control and restrict eminent domain by limiting land-use projects that provide any party with an economic benefit. Proposition 99, meanwhile, only prevents private homes from falling into the hands of private developers, and includes no state restriction of rent control.
Prop 98 has provoked outrage from a significant number of groups and prominent political officials – including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – for being broad and vague.
Advocates from both sides of the debate surrounding Prop 99 cite a 2005 decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, which ruled that it is legal for the government to seize property from a private owner and give it to another. Prop 99 seeks to make such practices illegal.
David Mullinax, a local spokesman for the League of California Cities, supports Prop 99 over its counterpart. Mullinax said Prop 98 is not necessary because California is considerably more restrictive than Connecticut when dealing with cases of eminent domain. On the other side of this issue, Marko Mlikotin, a spokesman for the advocacy group Yes on 98, claimed that the legislation he supports was in fact nothing new.
“Prop 98 is not breaking any new ground – restrictive property rights are ensured by the U.S. and state constitution,” Mlikotin said. “For most of our history, we have been living under the conditions that Prop 98 is trying to renew.”
Santa Barbara City Councilmember Helene Schneider has been vocal in her opposition to Prop 98, claiming that the law was written in language that is too vague to interpret or understand without a lawyer.
“There are issues of how we could interpret Prop 98,” Schneider said. “The government could not make a land-use decision that has an economic benefit. It sets up a situation where the only person going to get things done are the lawyers, because they are going to be flooded with lawsuits.”
Mullinax agreed and said that Prop 98 is a Trojan horse for a separate agenda – namely abolishing rent control.
“There’s a little something for everyone to hate in Prop 98,” Mullinax said. “They have used the fear of eminent domain to tax their own agenda. [People living in] mobile home parks are scared to death of this, if this bill passes, and they decide to sell their property, [prices] will be increased five to 10 times.”
Conversely, Mlikotin argued that the state should eliminate rent control because it does not actually help those in need.
“You could have two people in a rental [complex] paying different prices – the system rewards people that have stayed their longer, not people who need the money,” Mlikotin said.