Dueling measures

Prop 99 backers say Prop 98 has ‘hidden agenda’

NOT WHAT IT SEEMS<br>This group of mobile-home owners held a press conference to protest what they said was the real intention of Prop 98: ending rent control in California.

This group of mobile-home owners held a press conference to protest what they said was the real intention of Prop 98: ending rent control in California.

Photo By Robert Speer

Why would a group of mobile-home residents organize in opposition to Proposition 98, an eminent-domain-reform measure on the June 3 ballot?

Because, they said last Thursday afternoon (May 15) in Children’s Park, the initiative has a “hidden agenda.” In addition to changing the eminent-domain law in California, it would phase out rent-control laws and eliminate other protections for renters, including mobile-home owners who rent their spaces.

In fact, that’s the measure’s main purpose, they charge. They note that more than 85 percent of the $5.3 million in funding for the pro-98 campaign has come from apartment-complex and mobile-home-park owners. (The bill is also sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and various development and real-estate groups.)

“Proposition 98 will give landlords the right to evict without giving a reason,” said Marty Struve, co-founder and co-executive director (with her husband, William Struve) of the Butte County Mobile Home Owners Association. “ ‘Just cause’ will become ‘just ‘cuz.’ “

The measure doesn’t stop there, added Gus Colgain, president of the California Mobile Home Resource & Action Association. It would also “eliminate the inclusion law that requires developers to include affordable housing in their projects,” he said.

The opponents also warned of a provision in the measure prohibiting eminent domain for purposes of something called “consumption of natural resources.” Depending on how it’s interpreted, it could interfere with future statewide water projects, they said.

Like Proposition 90, which was a similar measure on the November 2006 ballot, Prop 98 is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo vs. New London, upholding a Connecticut city’s decision to seize the plantiff’s home and give it to a developer of a commercial project. States all over the country have since passed legislation prohibiting such transfers.

Proposition 90 was hugely popular at first, until voters became aware that a “sleeper” provision would have required local governments to reimburse property owners when their actions—a rezone or general-plan update, for example—decreased the properties’ potential value. It lost by a comfortable margin.

This time around, opponents have taken a different tack: They’ve put their own eminent-domain-reform initiative on the ballot, Proposition 99. The measure, sponsored primarily by the League of California Cities, is a simple response to Kelo: It would prohibit governments from taking any single-family home for use by a private developer. It would not apply to apartment complexes or businesses, and it contains no rent-control provision.

Rent control, Prop 99 supporters state, should be left up to local governments to decide. Abolishing it would threaten more than 1 million low-income Californians and further diminish the already small stock of affordable housing.

Proponents of Prop 98 argue that, while 99 looks like it protects homeowners, it actually does almost nothing and is on the ballot only to defeat Prop 98 by confusing voters with a similar, weaker measure.

Prop 98, they argue, offers real protection by making it illegal for government to seize any property and then transfer it to private parties for their private use or profit. And eliminating rent control would end the practice of forcing owners to rent their properties at below fair-market value.

In addition to property owners and taxpayer groups, Prop 98 is supported by a range of conservative groups, including Republicans and Libertarians, property-rights organizations, city chambers of commerce, and farm groups, including the state Farm Bureau Federation. Such local politicians as Assemblymen Rick Keene and Doug LaMalfa and state Sen. Sam Aanestad also back the measure.

Those opposed to 98 and supportive of 99, in addition to the League of California Cities, include a wide range of groups, some of which rarely agree on issues. They include everything from the state Chamber of Commerce and the Association of California Water Agencies to the League of Conservation Voters and the ACLU.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposes 98, as do Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, former Gov. Pete Wilson and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Prop 98 opponents note that, had it been in place all along, neither Staples Center in Los Angeles (home of the Lakers) nor AT&T Park in San Francisco (home of the Giants) could have been built.