On June 3, Californians will vote on Proposition 99, a ballot initiative sponsored by groups representing cities, counties, redevelopment agencies and other pro‐condemnation interests. It purports to protect property rights against eminent domain, but it actually provides almost no protection.
Two San Gabriel Valley cities illustrate the dangers of unbridled condemnation authority. Baldwin Park plans to use eminent domain to demolish more than 500 homes and businesses and transfer the land to a politically influential developer who plans to build a mall. La Puente is trying to use eminent domain to take over a small shopping center, displacing 13 small businesses. The city claims that the area is “blighted” — making it eligible for condemnation under state law — even though there is no evidence of dilapidation.
Both of these “takings” of private property would probably be permitted under Proposition 99, because it protects only owner‐occupied residences against condemnations with the purpose of transferring property to “private persons.” That leaves renters — 42% of Californian households — unprotected. If the buildings they live in are condemned, renters can be forced out even if their leases haven’t expired. Owners of farms, small businesses and homeowners who have lived in their residences for less than one year also would remain vulnerable.
Even the protection for homeowners covered under Proposition 99 is likely to be ineffective, because the measure allows the condemnation of owner‐occupied homes if they are “incidental” to a “public” project. This means that homes could still be taken for transfer to private developers if the proposed project allocated some space for a “public” facility such as a community center or library.
Government officials also can say that their true purpose is promoting “development,” thereby circumventing the ban. Or they could argue that the new owners of any condemned properties are “public persons,” by virtue of business‐government “partnerships” for local development.