Monday, September 04, 2006

Two for One

Just read an interesting story by Ray Ring that appeared in the High Country News on July 24, about the drive by certain anti-government types to promote Measure 37-like laws in states all around the country by confusing (some would say pairing) them with the strong anti-Kelo fervor. It is something I have also thought to be the case, where the "evils" of eminent domain are intermingled with land use regulations in general and a strong case is made against both.

Ring, quoting John Echeverria, head of the Environmental Law and Policy Institute at Georgetown University, writes, "'The Kelo case is presented as a caricature in the news.' ... We talked about some of the horror stories, where governments use eminent domain in questionable ways. But those are few and far between. What's really going on, Echeverria said, is that, 'The property-rights advocates have exploited Kelo to advance a broader anti-government agenda.'

"Libertarians and property-rights activists believe that a huge array of common government regulations on real estate, such as zoning or subdivision limits, 'take' away property value. Therefore, they say, the government should compensate the owner, or back off. The extreme view of 'regulatory takings' is really at the core of this campaign -- not eminent domain."

With efforts underway in a number of states to get similar Measure 37 laws in front of voters or before state legislatures, Ring tracks down who is responsible for funding most of these organized efforts. He writes, "One key figure is the chairman of the board of Americans for Limited Government, Howie Rich. A real estate mogul based in New York City, Rich...(is) famour in libertarian circles for funding initiatives in the 1990s that imposed term limits on congessional delegations in 23 states... . This year, Rich says he has funneled nearly $200,000 through a group called Montanans in Action to back the Montana initiative... . Records in other states show that Rich has put $1.5 million into the California regulatory-takings initiative, $230,000 into the Idaho one, and $25,000 into the Arizona version.

"On the phone, Rich was confident of the rightness of his cause. 'I believe in the American Dream. ... I believe in free markets. I believe that ... government has been growing at an excessive rate, at the federal level and in many states. I'm happy to support local activists who are working to protect property rights in a whole bunch of states.'"

Rich notes, "While each initiative has its own sales pitch, they all deliberately tuck the notion inside the unrelated eminent domain controversy. The Los Angeles-based libertarian Reason Foundation mapped the strategy in a 64-page paper published in April, titled Statewide Regulatory Takings Reform: Exporting Oregon's Measure 37 to Other States. It recommends pushing 'Kelo-plus' initiatives, combining eminent domain reform with regulatory takings, to capitalize on 'the tremendous public and political momentum generated in the aftermath of the Kelo ruling...'"

So far, we've been lucky in Utah that we are not dealing with our own Measure 37-inspired effort, though we are about the only state in the West that is not. How did we escape? Probably because last year's SB170 was such a multi-pronged assualt on land use law, and it was home-cooked. We'll see if it stays that way.

The thing that is so disturbing to me is how easily people fall for these measures. I just recently saw a story in The Oregonian about a group of people in southwest Oregon had signed petitions and voted for Measure 37, but now that a property owner had applied for a Measure 37 exemption which would put a lot more development in the neighborhood, the same citizens had submitted a petition opposing the proposal. And this was not an isolated incident.

We live in a world of sound bites. Very few people take the time to examine closely what it is they are being asked to support. It seems to be the sign of the times!


At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

I'm curious...why is it so bad for a person to actually be compensated when the "planners" do things to lower the value of their land? I for one think something like this would be great in Utah, a place where people claim to be believers in the idea of real property rights.

You may have a good point but it doesn't shine through in this post. I'd like to know what the drawbacks are to fettered government control of how I use my real property and if those drawbacks outweigh the benefits to having some say over what I can and can't do with my land.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I guess the best way to answer your question is with a question Jeremy: should property owners have to pay back to the government a portion of the increased value of their property when the "planners" do something that raises your value? Taking a very broad view on this, private property regulations are the very thing that builds value. What if your neighbor wanted to put in a 20 unit apartment building? or a slaughterhouse? or a supermarket? While these things all have their place and can coexist with other land use (including single family detached housing), without regulating the property there would be no checks in place to reduce the potential bad things that could happen, whether they are perceived threats to you or very real threats.

The problem with Measure 37 is that to avoid bankrupting the local governments, the cities and counties in Oregon just end up approving the projects. Statewide, Oregon has traditionally done an incredible job with dealing with the negatives associated with growth by their land use regulations. Measure 37 may turn the tide and end up producing growth that is not nearly as manageable as it is now.


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