Public Comment

Commentary: Prop. 90 is an Assault on the Environment

By Samantha Murray
Friday October 27, 2006

A lot of readers are focusing on the effects Proposition 90 will have on eminent domain in California, but many are missing that this is one of the most squarely anti-environmental initiatives to reach the California ballot in decades.  

Under Proposition 90, virtually any new “government action” taken to protect the environment, including urban growth boundaries, setbacks, the CA Endangered Species Act, pollution regulations, water quality laws, restrictions on timber harvest and restrictions on off-shore drilling could result in landowners receiving huge payments from governments. But when the government (and ultimately taxpayers) inevitably cannot afford to pay the landowner, the environmentally destructive actions are allowed to proceed. 

Proposition 90 is modeled after Oregon’s infamous Measure 37, which passed statewide in the 2004 election. Measures like these are now being proposed in states across the country, as part of a national agenda funded by greedy out-of-state development interests in New York City.  

I was campaigning against Measure 37 in OR when it passed and, as a result, spoke to hundreds of people during my days as a phone banker. I did talk to some people with legitimate claims for why the land use planning system needed reform. But Proposition 90 is just too broad a brush.  

Land-use planning is essential for regulating potentially incompatible future uses of your neighbor with existing uses of an area. You wouldn’t, for example, want a mining operation right next to your rural residential land. And in state that is growing exponentially in the coming years, it’s more important now than ever to be thoughtful and capable in passing and enforcing smart residential and industrial growth in California.  

The overwhelming sentiment in Oregon now is regret; many of the people who voted for Measure 37 now wish they hadn’t. Over 2,700 claims have already been filed to develop 143,000 acres in Oregon since November 2004, with claimants seeking nearly $5 billion in compensation. The claims being filed already go beyond what you could imagine: claims to convert berry farms into high-density housing, turn lily farms into mobile-home parks, drill geothermal test wells inside the Newberry National Monument and yes, to launch a large gravel mining operation within 200 feet of neighboring homes. And in nearly every one of the 700 cases that have been settled, the government, handcuffed by Measure 37, has agreed to waive the regulations in question.  

Following in the footsteps of the deceptively named “Clear Skies” or “Healthy Forest” initiatives, the “Protect our Homes” Initiative is not about property rights for landowners or limiting government regulation. Strong regulations, if done correctly, increase our quality of life and actually raise property values by protecting you and your land from the potentially adverse uses of nearby landowners. Likewise, strong environmental laws protect wildlife and habitat for the enjoyment of future generations.  

Rather, a vote for Proposition 90 is a vote against open spaces, spectacular vistas, controlled urban sprawl and the quality of life that makes California special.  


Samantha Murray is the conservation director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society.