Signatures roll in for eminent domain initiative
August 15, 2007 by Kate Campbell, Assistant Editor, AgAlert, California Farm Bureau Federation
Efforts to shore up private property rights in California have kicked into high gear. Funding is now secure for the first phase of this effort, the statewide signature gathering drive aimed at putting a Farm Bureau-sponsored initiative on the June 2008 state ballot.
Called the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act, the landmark constitutional amendment will help curb government abuses of property-seizure laws and strengthen private property rights overall.
Californians for Property Rights Protection, a coalition that includes the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, wants to stop abuses of "eminent domain" laws by clarifying government powers in the state constitution.
"We're committed to this initiative effort and we're determined that it will appear on the ballot next June," said CFBF President Doug Mosebar. "We fully intend to follow through on this drive to protect property rights in our state. With the funding to collect signatures in hand, we're one step closer to reforming eminent domain abuses.
"Farm Bureau has a long history of standing up for private property rights and a reputation for supporting real public policy reforms," he said. "Californians who are really concerned about protecting people's rights to own homes, farms, businesses and churches, without the threat of government taking them away, will support our initiative."
The initiative would allow governments to take or damage property only for a stated public use and would specifically prohibit private property to be taken or damaged for private use. The measure requires agencies that condemn property to provide just compensation to owners.
About 700,000 valid signatures must be gathered and submitted to the Secretary of State's office by Nov. 26 to qualify for the ballot.
More than 100,000 signatures already have been gathered and more are pouring in, said CFBF Political Affairs Manager Kiran Black. But, to ensure the initiative qualifies for the ballot, more than 1 million signatures need to be gathered before the deadline.
That's why the signature campaign is being expanded, she said. "Already there's a growing force of signature gatherers out there, including victims of eminent domain abuse, homeowners worried about the taking of their properties, small businesses located in areas where redevelopment pressure is mounting and faith-based groups that find their properties in the path of development.
"And, Farm Bureau members are adding to those ranks, talking to their friends and neighbors and working at fairs to get the needed signatures."
Placing an initiative on the state ballot is a daunting task, Black said.
"The process usually involves three stages," she said. "First, there's the drafting of the initiative language and filing with the Attorney General's office. We've done that. Next is the collecting of signatures to qualify it for the ballot. That's where we are now. Once we qualify, we'll need additional funding to launch the public awareness campaign."
The initiative effort is prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Connecticut homeowner Suzette Kelo. She once owned a Victorian cottage with a view of Long Island Sound. She'd lived there for many years.
The City of New London, however, took her home and those of about 15 others by condemning and seizing the properties through eminent domain. The city then turned the properties over to a private developer to include in a larger retail and condominium project that city leaders hope will generate greater tax revenue.
When Kelo and her neighbors sued to prevent their homes from being taken, the Supreme Court sided with the city, in part because the court found the state did not have adequate or explicit protections against such takings in state law.
Farm Bureau and its partners in the property-rights coalition say its initiative would prevent similar abuses in California, by amending the state constitution to bolster private property rights.
In a related development, Black said the League of California Cities and state redevelopment agencies have also received approval to collect signatures for a competing eminent domain initiative.
That proposed ballot initiative, however, includes a number of loopholes, Black said.
"Our concern with this new initiative effort is that its supporters may lead the public to think the problems with eminent domain will be addressed, but in reality, what the initiative seeks to do is solidify the status quo," Black said.
The League of Cities also backs a piece of state legislation being considered now that does not address the abuses farmers and ranchers are concerned about, she said.
"Farm Bureau takes private property rights very seriously and we're moving ahead with this initiative because we believe it will protect all privately owned property throughout California, including farms and ranches," Black said. "We encourage all our members to get involved.
"People will be confused by having two initiatives on the same issue circulating at the same time," Black said. "If we are going to get the needed signatures, we have to get out there and talk to people about this. It's an opportunity for local Farm Bureaus to show their strength and commitment."
(Kate Campbell is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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