Debra J. Saunders

For many Californians, the rent-control provision, which also applies to mobile home parks, is a deal killer. If Proposition 98 fails, it will be because the authors were greedy in adding rent control to the mix. So be it.

That said, ending rent control would be good for Californians. Landowners would have more of an incentive to maintain their properties well. As former state Legislative Analyst Bill Hamm noted, rent control "discourages the construction of housing. If we're trying to help people get decent housing, we want to encourage it."

UC Berkeley's Center for Environmental Law & Policy warned that Proposition 98 would spawn countless lawsuits. The center's executive director, Rick Frank, told me, "If Proposition 98 passes, it will be the property-rights and eminent-domain lawyers full employment act."

But the status quo is unacceptable. Local governments should not be able to take prime location from one taxpaying business and give it to a pet developer.

The Proposition 99 folks claim there is no hidden agenda in their measure. Not so. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst reported that "government seldom uses eminent domain to take single-family homes" -- so it safeguards property seldom seized.

Worse. A "poison pill" provision means that if both propositions pass, but 99 gets more votes, 98 is null and void. This puts property-rights advocate like Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal in the awful position of telling voters to reject a measure that could save Suzette Kelo's home (if she lived in California) in order to pass a measure that would protect homes and small business like Revelli Tire Company in Oakland and Bernard Luggage Company in Los Angeles.

Keep in mind that if Proposition 98 passes, local governments still will be able to use eminent domain to take land for schools and roads, as well as to curb urban blight and crime. Local governments will even be able to use eminent domain for private development -- if they present a sufficiently attractive price for the property. But they won't be able to force law-abiding small business owners to forfeit their place of business so that government can hand it over to a well-connected corporation.

Debra J. Saunders

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