Davis City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday night indicating its opposition to Proposition 98,a measure on the June 3 ballot that would constrain state and local government’s eminent domain powers.
The controversial proposition aimsto prohibit government agenciesfromforcingthe sale of private propertyandthen subsequentlytransferring ownership to another private party.
The use of eminent domain powers is traditionally reserved for instances in which a government agency deems it necessary to acquire private property for a public use – usually new schools, roads or government buildings.
The proposition was spurred by a 2005 Supreme Courtruling, making it legal for a local government agency to seize private property and transfer ownership to another party, provided the project will result in economic growth or increased tax revenues for the city.
“The supposed primary focus is on eminent domain, but in reality the concerns are with the section that deals with rent control,” said city manager Bill Emlen.
The proposition includes a clause that would prohibit government from enacting new rent control measures as well as phase out rent controls implemented before Jan. 1, 2007 on a unit-by-unit basis after they are vacated voluntarily.
Several residents of Atria Covell Gardens, a senior living facility, encouraged City Council to oppose the proposition, citing a 24 percent rent increase over the past three years. The proposition would make it impossible for Davis to implement any rent control policies.
“Nobody likes rent control in theory, but in practice it becomes a necessary evil where rental costs are so high,” Emlen said.
Davis resident Richard Fields addressed the council in support of the proposition.
“Proposition 98 would it make it more difficult to take from one private citizen and give to another,” Fields said. “I know you folks here in Davis wouldn’t do that,but do you trust the people in Woodland and Elk Grove not to?”
The city of Davis has rarely used its eminent domain powers, Emlen said.
“The experience I’ve had in state and local governments is that they don’t employ eminent domain unless it’s an absolute public need,” said Councilmember Don Saylor. “It’s always better to have a willing seller.“
Opponents of Prop 98 also argue that it would impair local government’s ability to protect the environment.
The measure would prohibit laws that “transfer economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner.“ Because most environmental regulations inherently impose a cost on the private owner while transferring economic benefits to another party,opponents argue it would devastate environmental regulation.
“It doesn’t benefit the taxpayers and could seriously impede local government from addressing environmental issues,” Emlen said. “What always concerns me about propositions is that often their titles do not accurately depict whatthey represent.Folks needto look at them carefully.“
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