Photo of revenue men at still from en.wikipedia.org.
This week BART and AC Transit joined a long list of public agencies, business groups, environmental groups and unions that have gone on record opposing Proposition 90, which seems a really sensible idea to a lot of voters.
Why the disconnect? Don’t all those organizations represent those voters?
With the lumbering title of Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property, Initiatitve Constitutional Amendment, Prop 90′s backers say they’re just trying to protect your property from unreasonable government land grabs.
The Supreme Court last summer affirmed the ability of the city of New London, Conn., to take a bunch of private houses to make way for a big private waterfront development that city officials believed would help the city’s sagging economy. Prop 90 is among a host of state initiatives that claim to correct this seeming abuse of government power.
And people who know something about the subject agree that Prop 90 would do that.
The reason so many smart, influential, and yes, elite people are against it is that it would also protect the property next door from lots of reasonable government regulation.
For instance, if your neighbor decided to quit his job as a software designer and start a distillery in his back yard, assuming there were no existing regulations, you might expect that your other neighbors and your government could put a stop to it. If your local municipality outlawed distilleries (there are already such laws, but work with me, ok?), Prop 90 would kick in, and the municipality would be obligated to compensate your neighbor for the income he lost because he could no longer crank out bottles of hooch.
Multiply such actions all over the state, and pretty soon, these Prop 90 opponents figure, the government can no longer do what most of us want it to do, which is regulate to preserve the character of our neighborhoods.
They believe it would change the old expression “there oughtta be a law” to “there oughtta be a lawsuit.”
On top of that, Prop 90 doesn’t say “real property,” it says “property,” which could mean your neighbor’s stockpile of hooch as well as the backyard still. If the government regulates anything that makes it less profitable to do anything, the owner of that whatever can sue for the amount of lost value. If an advertiser invents a new virus that spread spam through people’s computers, that spammer could be due a lot of compensation if the government outlaws his virus.
It would also do what voters expect it to do, which is make it much harder for public agencies to take private property. It would force them to compensate land owners not just for the current value of their property, but for its highest and best use, i.e., if the Warm Springs BART station was next door and there was a transit-oriented development already built there.
That seemingly fair component of Prop 90 alone would make it prohibitively expensive to build new rail lines, extra highway lanes, schools, water facilities, you name it.
One can certainly argue that the government needs a shorter leash when it comes to condemning property. What the opponents of Prop 90 fear is that this leash could choke the life out of reasonable regulatory authority.