I started this blog to write about trail running, not to engage in politics. But one proposition on this November's ballot here in California is so hostile to conservation and environmental protection that I feel the need to alert California trail runners, and urge everyone to vote NO on Proposition 90.
Those who support Proposition 90 are trying to market it as eminent domain reform, preventing the government from purchasing privately held land for public uses, but in fact the measure goes way beyond "reform." It redefines the current policies governing "just compensation," changing the benchmark from "fair market value" to a new level of inflated payouts based on the value of the property as the government intends to use it, resulting in windfall payouts to a few property owners (at the expense of taxpayers) and making infrastructure projects so prohibitively expensive that many will simply not be done.
For example, if voters, out of environmental concerns, act to limit the size of a housing development to 100 houses -- but the developer claims the property could hold 200 houses -- Proposition 90 allows the developer to sue, forcing taxpayers to pay his company the "lost value" for the 100 houses he wasn’t allowed to build. Taxpayers would be on the hook for the value of the property at the denser level, even though the community did not want such a development in the first place.
Wetlands would be threatened. Compensation requirements would be triggered whenever development on or around wetlands was restricted by local or state agencies, meaning that if the environmental agency were unable to pay these claims of lost property value, it would be forced to allow development near sensitive wetlands to go forward. Efforts to persuade local governments to adopt buffer zones around key wetlands would also be cost-prohibitive or impossible.
Protecting open space would be much more difficult, too. Proposition 90 requires new levels of inflated payouts to property owners whenever land or conservation easements are acquired. This could make conservation projects so expensive that many will simply not be done. Open space projects that would set aside land for public use will end up costing much more, and far fewer will be completed.
Responsible planning will be replaced with sprawl and uncontrolled development. Any growth-control measures could arguably diminish the future value of property -- therefore requiring compensation under Proposition 90. Even routine land-use and general plan updates, or local project approvals could be subject to these payout provisions.
Trail runners, it's pretty obvious why we need to oppose this legislation. Anyone who cares about our environment, and who enjoys our open public lands, has every reason to work to ensure that Proposition 90 does not pass. As more and more of our land is covered by McMansions, shopping malls, and other environmentally disastrous development, the undeveloped land that remains becomes that much more precious.
Please join me, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the California League of Conservation voters, and hundreds of taxpayer groups, environmental organizations, and public safety officials and vote NO on Proposition 90.
See you on the trail -- and at the polls!
(Don't know where your polling place is? Click on this link to look up any polling place in the state of California.)