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A poster cause with no poster

How one ballot sleeper could change everything in California



This election season is bothersome.

It's annoying that this statewide ballot appears as inconsequential as the last. It's annoying that California's congressional seats seem locked into place.

It's annoying that, in three weeks, we'll be paying $3.30 a gallon for gas again, and annoying that lots of oil exists in Iran.

It's annoying that voters must soon chose between a still-underqualified governor, who didn't recognize the California Poppies painted for him by the art class at Sinsheimer Elementary, and his underqualified challenger, who exhibits roughly the personality of a California Poppy.

Oh yeah, the Republican candor surrounding the war on terror looping perpetually and mindlessly like the baseline of a late-nineties electronica track that's annoying too, almost as much as the fact that the Democrats can't find another beat.

Then, of course, there's the emboldened Green Party candidate, pitching platform in the bar line of an Ani DiFranco concert and touting revolutionary solutions to all the earth's problems... except the one that involves getting elected.

That goes for the Libertarians at Neil Young too.

But, most of all, I'm annoyed that the ideologues on the fringes particularly the hyperinvolved, one-issue activists continue to deem us middle-of-the-road folk as either politically apathetic or ignorant.

I'm a centrist, which color-wise, works out to something like phlegm a little red, blue, green, but mostly yellow. I have my ideals, but I'm really more interested in actually getting my way from time to time.

For this reason, I find it slightly more than annoying that the biggest issue in this election remains a footnote, and downright infuriating that a poor turnout will likely see it passed. Proposition 90 is an affront to every taxpayer, city leader, and environmental advocate a nightmare waiting for California to fall asleep. Made in New York.

The bonafide, honest-to-Reagan supporters of Prop. 90 which they dubbed the "Protect Our Homes Act" present the topic as a matter of controlling rampant misuse of eminent domain. They claim these shocking and contemptible civil right abuses take place in America on an hourly basis... and it certainly seems so when 20,000 media outlets all print the same four stories.

Is eminent domain a problem worthy of repair? I wouldn't doubt it in fact, I would argue as much. The California Farm Bureau and the California Taxpayers Association believe that's the case, but neither endorsed this particular ballot item because of a few sickening little caveats.

Both lobbies know, although it effectively shields homeowners from eminent domain abuses, Prop. 90 empowers developers to seek restitution to employ the most direct word for choices made at the policy level. The exact text allows business interests to recoup any "substantial economic loss" they can legitimately claim as a result of municipal, state, or county action.

Remember years back when late entrepreneur Alex Madonna wanted to hurl a bistro atop Cerro San Luis, complete with a tram running to the summit? There's one sizable check. Remember when some addle-pated developer wanted to plop a golf course and resort at the foot of Hollister Peak the site of an ancient Obispeno Chumash settlement? There's another.

In both cases, the applicants owned the land, but the city and county planning commissions, thankfully, downed the projects.

After Prop. 90 passes, forget about city planners requiring developers to account for alternative transportation forget about striking projects because of concerns for the neighborhood and forget about preserving wetlands if California taxpayers have to give for every take. What small town, like Atascadero, could afford to recoup Wal-Mart's lost revenue if it wanted to rezone an area against big box stores?

With Prop. 90 in effect, even if Measure J goes the way of the Hindenburg, what might the city and county owe to Ernie Dalidio for spending more than a decade trying to make that monstrosity fly? The planning? The grading? The lawyers and spokesmen?

In the urban arena, could the owner of a building project even expect the city to pick up the check for rent lost to low-income housing requirements? The proposed legislation makes dangerously few distinctions.

In fact, the public financing fallout proved so inconceivable, lawmakers preparing the legislative analysis a step necessary in placing items on the statewide ballot basically threw their arms in the air trying to assess the windfall.

"The amount of such costs is unknown, but potentially significant on a statewide basis," read the Sacramento report.

Read: Uuuhhhhhh...

While posed to cost California taxpayers an undisclosed bundle, Prop. 90 threatens policymakers' ability to pursue smart growth and protect public health. It stands to effectively castrate the Coastal Commission and various clean air and water regulatory bodies. Meanwhile, the law would force smaller governments to pick its fights based on budgetary concerns.

If you find any of this disturbing, here's the worst part: the latest poll results show strong support for Prop. 90. Most citizens queried by pollsters cited a strong opposition to eminent domain legislation as motivation to vote in favor of the proposed bill. With reservoirs of funding provided by Manhattan financier Howie Rich, proponents of Prop. 90 orchestrated a subtle but masterful campaign.

Naturally, Rich claims his $1.77 million advocacy to support the ballot item is purely ideological. Howie Rich might be the most annoying thing about this election. ?

Staff Writer Patrick M. Klemz can be contacted at [email protected].

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