Public Comment

Commentary: Deception Underlies Propostion 90

By Randy Shaw
Friday September 29, 2006

As a vocal critic of redevelopment agencies, I was pleased to learn that a petition was circulating that would curtail the use of eminent domain. Unfortunately, when I read the measure (which is now Proposition 90 on the November ballot) I learned that the initiative’s backers sought to capitalize on rising anti-eminent domain sentiment by inserting a sentence jeopardizing the future enactment of most land use laws, including amendments to local rent control ordinances. This sentence—which allows property owners to sue government entities over any new law that reduces their property values—is so destructive that it overwhelms the good part of the initiative. Prop. 90’s specific language limiting eminent domain made this broad sentence unnecessary, raising questions about the motives behind November’s “Protect our Homes” initiative.  

Section 19(b)(8) of Prop. 90 authorizes litigation if government actions cause a substantial economic loss to ANY property. There is an exception for governmental actions to protect public health and safety, but no exception for the public welfare, environmental protection or economic regulation. 

This is crazy. Instead of simply putting forth an initiative to help rid California of eminent domain, backers of Prop. 90 are using anger over the government’s seizure of property to prevent inclusionary zoning, the protection of old growth forests, or land-use restrictions on Wal-Mart and other “big-box” stores. 

Prop. 90 would even prevent Los Angeles and other cities from enacting restrictions on condominium conversions. Thousands of rental housing units have been converted in Los Angeles alone over the past five years, with thousands of tenants being displaced from their homes. A broad, citywide coalition of tenants, labor unions and neighborhood activists has emerged to support legislative restrictions on such conversions. But under Prop. 90, Los Angeles would have to pay real estate speculators for not being able to convert rental housing.  

Since Los Angeles and other cities could not afford to pay such costs, Prop. 90 would effectively ban any new tenant protection measure from being enacted. This is exactly the wrong way to address the abuses of eminent domain. 

Prop. 90 would also effectively bar future changes to the destructive state Ellis Act, which allows real estate speculators to evict elderly tenants so they can convert their apartments to tenancies in common. Again I ask: Why is an initiative designed to deal with eminent domain restricting future tenant protection measures? 

The fact that Prop. 90 goes far beyond restricting eminent domain does not appear to be a drafting error. Rather, it is consistent with the anti-regulatory zealotry of Howard Ahmanson, who, along with wealthy New York real estate developer Howard Rich, are the leading funders of the initiative. 

In Berkeley, height limitations are a big issue. But Prop. 90 takes height restrictions as well as all zoning decisions out of local control, and makes them subject to state law. With California’s population steadily increasing, more and more cities are going to want to enact development restrictions But cities will be unable to do so for fear of having to reimburse all existing property owners for lost profits as required by Prop. 90. 

Nobody needs to convince me of the evils of eminent domain. But Prop. 90 is not the answer. By preventing local governments from passing laws to help working people and the poor, Prop. 90 hurts the very populations it claims to help. 


Randy Shaw is the editor of  



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