Sneak Attack on Property Rights Initiative Falls Flat

The California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act (CPOFPA) is an initiative that would curb government’s power to seize private property and turn it over to another private entity that is willing to pay more in taxes. The measure is sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Alliance for the Protection of Private Property Rights California Alliance for the Protection of Private Property Rights who are gathering signatures to place it on the June 2008 state-wide ballot.

Opposed to this effort of course are the California Redevelopment Association and the California League of Cities. Both organizations vigorously defend their existing power to take private property for the purpose of handing it over to another private interest such as a major developer or big box store for the simple purpose of generating more tax revenues for local government.

To ward off true reform that would protect private property owners these government organizations are now promoting a much weaker competing initiative that would provide only limited protection for some private property owners but no protections at all for small businesses or churches.

In the most recent skirmish in the property rights battle the government interests have paid for a self-serving "legal analysis" attacking the CPOFPA which they have been "shopping" to the media. Specifically the document alleges that the CPOFPA would prohibit the use of eminent domain — the taking of private property — to construct new water storage facilities or to fill them with water.

This outlandish claim however was quickly debunked by a number of California’s water law and property rights experts.

Ironically this League of Cities analysis runs directly contrary to what the California Farm Bureau Federation — which co-authored the CPOFPA — says about the measure. It makes no sense that the agricultural community which has fought for decades for more water storage would jeopardize those same projects.

The League of Cities’ bizarre charge that CPOFPA would somehow impair governments’ ability to build and fill new water storage facilities could not be further from the truth. The initiative does not touch the state constitution’s existing authorization that private property may be taken for public use. The initiative’s definition of "public use" clearly allows the exercise of eminent domain to build new water storage. It allows eminent domain for any "public use … including public facilities … and public utilities."

The League of Cities’ fantastic allegations just illustrate how far politicians and bureaucrats — as well as developers who want help in seizing private property they are unable to buy from willing sellers — will to go to maintain coercive power over all property within their jurisdictions.

The League of Cities and the Redevelopment Association’s attempt to create a controversy over this initiative must be seen for what it is: a campaign stunt.

Still it is a valuable warning to those working to protect private property rights. If the enemies of property rights use the same playbook they have used in the past this won’t be their last attempt to deceive the public and policy makers about what the CPOFPA does or does not do. It is therefore incumbent for all those who believe Californians deserve the same property rights as those enjoyed in other states to remain vigilant against spurious attacks.

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.