COMMENTARY: Protecting property, saving the democracy

February 4, 2008



One of the quickest ways to jettison our individual freedom is to allow the diminution of property rights – even the property of others.


If ever there was a true united-we-win, divided-we-lose situation facing local voters, it is coming up in June: By ignoring the growing propensity of government officials to grab private property under the guise of eminent domain, we ignore a threat to democracy much greater than any posed by some piss-ant terrorist.


Unfortunately, the kinds of immoral, often illogical, land acquisitions that fall under the mantle of eminent domain usually occur under the radar of public scrutiny, leaving the financially-raped property owner to howl into the vacuum that is complacency and apathy.


State and local governments utilize eminent domain to take private property for a variety of public facilities, highway and road rights-of-way, and parks. Land cannot be appropriated or damaged for the benefit of any private person or entity. And “just compensation” for taken property is mandated by the state constitution.


Unfortunately, the definition of “public use” is broadening almost by the day, as court after court allows flagrant abuse of the practice in favor of major developers whose for-profit project is narrowly defined as falling under the definition of “public benefit.” This process of liberalizing the rules to which government must adhere when exercising eminent domain has been gradual but unrelenting. And the attitude of too many people — if the land grab is happening to someone else – is usually “who cares?”


We all should care. The only power of government greater than the ability to steal private property is its ability to kill people.


A coalition of entities has placed on the June ballot the “California Property Owners and Farmland Act” to amend the state constitution and restrict the government in its taking of private property. The coalition is comprised of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; the California Farm Bureau Federation; and the Alliance to Protect Private Property.


Pretty radical stuff, eh? Imagine! Property owners demanding that government refrain from stealing their land.


The last time a measure like this was on the statewide ballot, it was rather soundly defeated. I can attribute this to one of two possibilities – either there are many millions of public officials out there chafing to take someone’s private property; or there are a lot of people who just don’t know what eminent domain really does.


I have my doubts about the California electorate approving this initiative, however, despite its importance. It might be that voters just don’t like changing the constitution, even if it means simply strengthening its provisions. Or it might be that voters are unthinking, uncaring, unknowing, and unable to grasp the simple concept that government power must be controlled by the people, and when necessary, restrained.


This ballot measure is an adjustment, stating in easy-to-understand English what government officials are allowed to do.


Experience has shown over and over that if the people are not clear in their instructions to their employees, the people inevitably get screwed.



1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Member Opinions:

By: Anonymous on 2/14/08

Too many people do not own real property, and therefore don't care. Keep up the good work and smartening us all up!

By: Anonymous on 2/14/08

Too many people do not own real property, and therefore don't care. Keep up the good work and smartening us all up!

By: Anonymous on 2/11/08

With almosts 300,000 Californians voting for Edwards or Giuliani after they had dropped out, I don't hold much hope that we'll be able to grasp the concept of eminent domain anytime soon.

Thanks, Dan, for making this public. Keep writing about it as June approaches, because the last thing we need is to give MORE power to our elected officials… especially when it comes to property rights.

By: Anonymous on 2/4/08

It would be more helpful if you had mentioned that in June, there will actually be TWO initiatives dealing with eminent domain restrictions. One is reasonable, and one is very unreasonable. Perhaps you could do a follow-up column highlighting the differences, and your preferences, if any, between the two.