CFBF-sponsored initiative seeks to protect farmland
As part of an ongoing effort to protect property rights, the California Farm Bureau Federation has joined with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights to sponsor the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act.
The act would address concerns raised by a U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago, which gave governments the right to condemn private property and grant it to another private owner.
The proposed act would allow governments to take or damage private property only for a stated public use and would specifically prohibit private property to be taken or damaged for private use. It requires agencies condemning property to provide just compensation to owners, including reasonable relocation expenses and payment for temporary business losses.
The backers have begun collecting more than 700,000 valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the June 2008 ballot.
"Farm Bureau has always stood up for the rights of property owners and we're very concerned about abuses of the government's power to condemn land. It's not right that court decisions allow the government to take your property and give it to someone else," said CFBF President Doug Mosebar. "The Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act will help assure that farmland stays in private ownership and continues to produce food and agricultural products. It offers much-needed protection for homeowners and business owners throughout California."
Farmland is particularly vulnerable to being condemned and taken, in part because farmland generally is not as costly to seize as residential or commercial property, Mosebar said.
"That makes reasonable controls on government condemnation powers especially important to farmers and ranchers," he said. "This proposal has been carefully drafted. It allows government to take private property for a true, stated public use but it would specifically prohibit private property to be taken for private use. It requires agencies condemning property to provide just compensation to owners."
Major provisions of the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act include:
- Protects all properties, including homes, businesses, family farms, places of worship and rental property, from being seized for private development.
- Allows property to be condemned for true public uses, such as highways, parks and schools.
- Prohibits government from seizing property for the same use as that of the current owner.
- Requires that the property be offered for sale to the original owner if the public use for which a property was seized is later abandoned.
- Provides agricultural and open space protections.
- Entitles property owners who are evicted by "eminent domain" property seizures to compensation for temporary business losses, relocation expenses and other reasonable expenses.
- Prohibits government from determining the price a property owner can charge to sell or lease property.
"Laws that allow government to seize private property to build shopping centers and industrial parks must be changed," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "Since the Legislature has failed to protect private property, voters will."
"Voters must stand united against special interests that seek possession of their homes, businesses and family farms," said Jim Nielsen, president of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights.
The 2005 Supreme Court ruling, known as Kelo v. the City of New London, touched off widespread concerns among property owners and property-rights advocates. At least 41 states have enacted reforms to condemnation procedures in the wake of the ruling and 20 of those states have provided what initiative supporters call "meaningful protections."
But the partnership sponsoring the initiative, Californians for Property Rights Protection, says "true reforms have eluded California so far."
According to a survey conducted earlier this year by Public Opinion Strategies, more than two-thirds of potential California voters would support a measure to protect their property from developers looking to build shopping centers or industrial parks.
A survey of Farm Bureau voting members in California, conducted last year, showed that 94 percent considered it important to make sure that local government cannot take private property without the agreement of the property owner.
"We know this issue is important to our members, and that's why we've been involved in this initiative drive from the start," Mosebar said.
There may also be a competing initiative on eminent domain, sponsored by the League of California Cities. Backers have not yet decided whether to start a signature-gathering drive for that measure. The Legislature is currently considering a version of the cities' measure in the form of ACA 8 by Assemblymember Hector De Le Torre, D-South Gate.
Mosebar said the League of Cities' measure and ACA 8 focus on single-family, owner-occupied homes, leaving family farmers and business owners vulnerable to continued abuse of the condemnation process.
"California needs a measure that protects homeowners and all other property owners," he said. "Keep in mind that the competing measure is backed by the very agencies that have the power to condemn private land. As you might expect, it doesn't do much and has a lot of loopholes."
For more information on the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act, visit www.yesonpropertyrights.com.
(Dave Kranz is CFBF Manager of Media Services. He may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.