Monday, January 13, 2014

Eminent Domain, Senate Bill 1 and the Death of Private Property Rights in California

Lately California has been awash with scary ideas about private property rights and new uses for eminent domain. In September I wrote about Richmond, California's plan to use eminent domain to cancel mortgages and rewrite notes of underwater homeowners.  As I explained  in that post, this plan is extremely dangerous because it threatens private property rights and the rights of mortgagors and endangers the future of mortgage financing in any city where it is adopted.  At least, however, the Richmond plan pretended that it had the end goal of helping homeowners retain their property.

The National Real Estate Post is reporting today that the Richmond plan is fizzling out because the city and its private partner are unable to find investors to buy the municipal bonds needed to finance the confiscation of the properties.  This bodes well for the rest of the country--several cities across the U.S. have been considering adopting a similar plan, and the failure of Richmond's plan--if it does indeed fail--will discourage others from following suit.

Now, however, the California Senate is considering a bill so drastic that it makes the Richmond idea pale in comparison.  Senate Bill 1 will allow cities to set up bureaucracies to use eminent domain to confiscate private property, including private homes, for the purpose of setting up public transportation and sustainable communities.  In my novel The Planner, published in 2012, the government uses eminent domain to facilitate sustainable communities, so this is something of a case of life imitating art. is reporting that the bill will allow municipalities to use eminent domain not only to create public transportation but to confiscate homes within half a mile of that public transportation for sustainable communities.  Sustainable communities have been sweeping the country under the names "Smart Growth" "Smart Code" and "walkable" communities.  These are mixed use, mixed income communities where housing is tightly packed, neighborhoods are designed so that the housing does not have individual yards but rather relies on community parks, and public transportation is encouraged rather than the use of private automobiles.

What makes Senate Bill 1 unique is that the bill specifically allows governmental entities to confiscate properties where there is no traditional definition of "blight." The bill, "provides that an Authority is not required to make a finding of blight or conduct a survey of blight in a project area, but can rely upon the legislative findings in the bill to establish blight."  What that means to you is that you may live in the loveliest home in the loveliest subdivision in California, but if a bureaucrat decides that your neighborhood is consuming too much energy and needs to be transformed into a "walkable" community, you can lose your property.

And being outside the city won't protect you.  The bill allows counties to create similar boards to deal with unincorporated areas of the state to confiscate property and redevelop it as "sustainable development."

Other gems from this bill include:

1. Developing strict parking ordinances in sustainable communities to discourage the use of cars and encourage public transportation.

2. Requiring a residential construction plan for these newly created "small walkable communities" of no less than 20 units of residential housing per net acre.

3. Requiring that a certain number of units be set aside for extremely low, very low, and low income housing at all times.

Each plan for a sustainable community must include a study of the ways in which the community will conserve energy and water and reduce parking.

The use of eminent domain to promote sustainability strikes deeply at the heart of one of our most precious freedoms as Americans--the right to purchase and own private property without fear of government confiscation.  To abolish that right in an effort to build a new green utopia on the backs of private property owners is not only dangerous, it's morally reprehensible.

Read the summary of Senate Bill 1 here.

Understand what smart growth, and sustainable development really mean and why advocates believe private property is the enemy by watching this short video:

When the mafia extorts money from you to allow you to live, they call it "protection money." When the government does it, they call it "consumer protection." Either way, you are paying for protection from someone who has the power to take everything you have.

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