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LAist at the Polls: Vote NO on Proposition 98

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Though it’s not as high profile as the magical adventures we had on Super Tuesday, there’s an election tomorrow and it’s of critical importance for everyone in the State who isn’t a landlord or a massive corporate entity. In addition to various local elections, there are two propositions on the ballot tomorrow competing for your vote on seemingly the same issue - Prop 98 and Prop 99.

Both propositions aim to amend Eminent Domain law in the state of California, ostensibly to prevent abuses of ED such as those highlighted in the 2005 US Supreme Court Case Kelo Vs. The City of New London. Such reforms are arguably long overdue. However, the similarity of the propositions and brazen mendacity on the part of certain interests make tomorrow's vote critical. Neither proposition adequately addresses the concerns of ED, a problem for those of us serious about preventing Kelo style overreach, but while one of them doesn't go quite far enough, the other is nothing more than a malicious scheme to destroy renter's rights and hasten California's transition to a third world style economy. It's a brazen attack on the middle and working class of California's cities shamefully disguised as an attempt to strengthen their rights.

To put it bluntly, the specific intent of Proposition 98 is to abolish Rent Control in the state of California.

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Vote no.

A more detailed (and pedantic) discussion after the jump.

Some of you may not be convinced that rent control is worth preserving. You're wrong, but that doesn't mean you're stupid. So consider that it isn't just rent control at stake - a victory for prop 98 will also place numerous other renter's protections in serious, possibly terminal jeopardy.

Here, in full, are the provisions of Proposition 98:

1) Bars state and local governments from taking or damaging private property for private uses. 2) Prohibits rent control and similar measures. (Emphasis mine.)

3) Prohibits deference to government in takings cases.

4) Defines "just compensation."

5) Requires an award of attorneys fees and costs if a property owner obtains a judgment for more than the amount offered by the government.

6) Requires government to offer to original owner of condemned property the right to repurchase property at condemned price when property is put to substantially different use than was publicly stated.[4]

It all seems fairly innocuous, but it's the second clause of provision 2 that ought to have you breaking out in cold sweats. Note that it bans not only Rent Control, but also "similar" laws. Naturally, the concept of "similar" is left cleverly undefined and it will almost certainly require multiple lawsuits to fully clarify what this means. Proponents, if they're smart, are probably betting that the courts will make as broad an interpretation as possible. We at LAist cannot pretend to accurately predict what that clarification will entail but thanks to the internet, we can make some an educated guesses - It doesn't take a lawyer to deduce that arguably "similar" measures might include:

A) The rules that govern the eviction process (including the requirement of advance notification when the owner wishes to move into a residence.)

B) The requirement that a tenant cannot be evicted from a rent controlled property unless the owner intended to occupy the residence - in other words, they can't kick you out just because they could make more money with someone else.

C) The requirement that landlords must notify you of changes they intend to make to your dwelling, especially if such changes (like foundation repair) will cause hardship or severe inconvenience to the tenant.

D) The requirement that evicted tenants be provided with a relocation fee.

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Of course, bear in mind that with rent control gone, your landlord can raise your rent to whatever the going market rate happens to be, which of course is determined by forces over which tenants have absolutely no control. Even after the Real Estate bubble imploded exactly as every single critic of flipping and related practices predicted, the housing market remains largely unregulated. Look forward to future bubbles that will probably end just as well as this one did.

Neat trick huh?

Opponents of Prop 98 are recommending that you vote Prop 99 instead. While it's arguable that prop 99 doesn't go far enough in reigning in potential ED abuse, it does pretty well, but it also has the added effect of rendering prop 98 moot:

Proposition 98 includes a provision that would nullify any other attempts to amend Article I, Section 19 of the California Constitution that appear on the same ballot. Such a provision is common when multiple ballot items on the same subject are on the same ballot. The so-called "poison pill provision" blocks conflicting pieces of law when one measure has more votes than the other. Only Proposition 98 is affected by this provision: if Proposition 99 wins more affirmative votes than Proposition 98, then only Proposition 99 will go into effect, not Proposition 98.

Finally, for those of you who aren't fully convinced, The Western Center on Law and Poverty has issued the following statement via e-mail:

[We] seldom take a position on ballot propositions. However, Proposition 98 contains dangerous amendments to the state constitution that require us to oppose it. Proposition 98 is billed as eminent domain reform. In reality, Proposition 98 would go far beyond eminent domain by eliminating local residential and mobilehome rent-stabilization laws (once the existing tenants move). Broadly and vaguely drafted, Proposition 98 would likely also invalidate other land use regulations, tenant protections, and affordable housing requirements. We see Proposition 98 as a very serious threat, jeopardizing all of our affordable housing work. Proposition 99, also on the June ballot, would prevent government from taking a home to transfer to a private developer. This was the situation in the Kelo case in 2005 that sparked eminent domain reform measures throughout the country. Western Center supports this modest constitutional change. Our housing team continues our work in the legislative and legal arenas to ensure that redevelopment activities do not unfairly take the property of our clients, both homeowners and renters, without adequate purpose or compensation. We advocate a No vote on Prop. 98, and a Yes vote on Prop. 99.

Ordinarily, there's a tendency to want to state that each side has merit, but this is the rare instance when there is clearly a worst case scenario. Whether you're a home owner or a renter, the clear choice is the one that defends all of us, not just landlords and speculators. Vote no on 98, and preserve your right to live in city limits.

Photo: P1010019.JPG by clubjuggler via Flikr.