A proposition placed on California’s Nov. 7 ballot by a wealthy out-of-state developer would make it difficult to impossible to protect California’s forests, open space, wetlands and endangered species.

And that’s just for a start.

Proposition 90 is a proposed amendment to the California constitution that poses as a reform of eminent domain. But hidden in the fine print are “takings” provisions that would make any new regulation affecting land use too costly to be implemented--and that would force taxpayers to pay developers for obeying the law.

Prop. 90 would force state and local governments to compensate property owners whenever a new law might affect the future value of their property. The wording of the proposition –“substantial economic loss”--is vague enough to ensure a multitude of lawsuits, hamstringing local and state governments trying to provide services such as schools, roads, and utilities, and costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Many governments would likely decide to waive regulations rather than be forced to pay the kinds of compensation this law would allow. This would mean an effective end to many kinds of legislation that protect the public against inappropriate development.

According to the No on 90 campaign, for instance, protecting old-growth forests would become more difficult, since timber owners could sue if final timber harvesting plans allowed fewer trees to be cut than the owner had planned on.

Open space would be harder and more expensive to preserve. Water quality could be affected as developments are forced into wetlands and sensitive watersheds.

New laws that require mitigations of environmental harms under the California Environmental Quality Act would be forced to pay property owners. For instance, if the Oak Woodlands Protection Act had been passed with Prop. 90 in effect, counties could have been forced to compensate developers for protecting oak trees or providing mitigation for destroying oaks.

Coastal protections could be trumped by property owner lawsuits, and public access and viewsheds lost. Protecting buildings and landscapes for historic preservation would become more difficult and prohibitively expensive.

This proposition is one more attempt by property-rights activists (in this case New York developer Howard Rich) to force the government to pay them for profits they might have earned. It is government subsidy for fantasy, whereby developers and other property owners would have to be paid to obey the law.

Prop. 90 is opposed by groups across the political spectrum, from the Sierra Club to the California Chamber of Commerce. The proposition would be a disaster for California if passed.

Forests Forever recommends a “No” vote on Proposition 90.


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places