Deadline passes or eminent domain ballot initiative

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Organizers with a Peninsula-based campaign seeking to impose limits on eminent domain will learn this week whether their proposal collected the 800,000 signatures required to qualify for the November state ballot.

The proposed amendment to the California Constitution, called the California Eminent Domain Limitations Act, was filed with the state by Daly City Democrat Annette Hipona, a school board member and neighborhood activist, and Republican Douglas McNey of Santa Clara County.

It would bar the taking of private property by the government for development by another private entity, and would require cities to pay property owners “just compensation” when taking land for public use.

Signatures were collected statewide with the aid of campaigners, including San Ramon business owners, Filipinos in Long Beach and a group of San Jose seniors known as the Ironhair Brigade.

The petitions were due Sunday, and organizers were not sure yesterday exactly how many signatures had been collected.

“There’s something very un-American about the idea that you are not secure in the ownership of your property,” campaign chairwoman and San Jose resident Lorraine Wallace Rowe said.

The ballot initiative is the latest response to the Supreme Court’s June 2005 ruling upholding cities’ authority to use eminent domain for private developments with a public benefit such as increased sales tax revenues.

The Supreme Court decision doesn’t apply in California, however, where eminentdomain law is already more strict, according to Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who has authored and sponsored a handful of bills on eminent domain.

“I’m not a big fan of the initiative process, but I have no position on the initiative,” Mullin said.

Instead, he proposes an independent study of eminent-domain abuse before further limits are imposed.

Eminent domain has touched many Bay Area communities. Officials in Redwood City were forced to pay out $3 million in a legal settlement with a property owner after a judge found they had improperly taken his property to build a theater and shopping center.

In Half Moon Bay, residents last fall overwhelmingly approved an advisory measure barring the city from taking private property for private projects.

The ballot initiative and other legislative proposals are not without their opponents.

Many would “make it impossible to use eminent domain for redevelopment,” said John Shirey, head of the California Redevelopment Association.

CRA is working with some legislators to make their bills more likely to gain redevelopers’ support.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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