Prop 90: Enriching the Rich, Making Us Their Bitch

Congressman John Campbell (R-Irvine Company) has signed on to support Proposition 90, the Taxpayer Trap Initiative (or Save our Homes, if you're gullible). This is no surprise; back in September 2005, Prop 90's main backers poured $120,000 into Campbell for Congress, the campaign committee formed to help Campbell seize the seat left vacant by Christopher Cox's appointment to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Campbell's cash windfall came in a matter of days from over 850 separate donations from Club for Growth, a powerful PAC with Howard S. Rich on its board of directors and leadership council.

The aptly-named Mr. Rich is better known this election cycle for his leadership roles in Club for Growth State Action, Americans for Limited Government, and the Fund for Democracy as well as his association with Montanans In Action. Combined, these four groups have thrown over three million dollars into the Yes on 90 war chest—$3,320,000 to be precise, ninety percent of the committee's total of $3.7 Million.

It's nice to know that crazy rich folk in California can count on the help of filthy, filthy rich folk from New York, Chicago and Montana.

Rich isn't the only piggy bank greasing Prop 90's wheels; in fact, some of its main supporters are from right here in Orange County. Two notable names on the list of are Assemblywoman Mimi Walters, the resolution's co-sponsor (whose election committee has dropped $50,000 into the kitty), and OC supervisor candidate Pat Bates. Walters is honorary state chair of the "Protect our Homes Coalition". She is also one of the biggest cheerleaders for the extension of the 241 (Foothill South) toll road. The project, run by the Transportation Corridor Agencies, would pave through Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy, San Onofre State Beach and a Juaneno Indian burial ground. Bates markets herself as the only candidate for county supervisor who supports the extension of Foothill South.

What these women are either too oblivious to realize or too unfathomably cunning to admit is that Prop 90 and the toll road are contradictory. Oxymoronic, as it were. They contradict each other. If Prop 90 passes, the toll road would become dramatically more expensive to build, not to mention it would leave open the possibility for an endless tide of lawsuits. When rich landowners and state government fight, the only winners will be the lawyers.

Here's the rub – the Taxpayer Trap would rewrite Article 19, Section 1, subsection b of the California Constitution to reevaluate the costs of any regulatory action taken by the state.

Any property taken "shall be valued at the use to which the government intends to put the property". Which means the state has to compensate property owners as if their eminent-domain-invoking project was already built. If the government builds a toll road, for example, they would not only need to calculate projected land value once the road is in place, but the property owner could also argue that he/she deserve a portion of toll proceeds.

Also, property owners must receive "just compensation" for any taking. "Just compensation shall include, but is not limited to, compounded interest and all reasonable costs and expenses actually incurred." All reasonable costs? One man's reason is another man's flight of fancy, but here's the real kicker: "just compensation shall be defined as that sum of money necessary to place the property owner in the same position monetarily, without any governmental offsets, as if the property had never been taken."

Now what the hell does that mean? Technically it could mean the state is liable for a property owner's legal fees to negotiate any eminent domain dispute, the gas money to drive the owner to and from any relevant meetings, and why not throw in postage costs for any notices mailed back and forth? After all, these are costs incurred by the taking of the property, are they not? It must be fun being a lawyer.

I checked in with Lisa Telles, spokesperson for the TCA, on whether Prop 90 would in fact impact the project. She replied, "The consensus here is that under Prop 90, if we use eminent domain to obtain any of the right of way for Foothill-South, the right of way cost would be more expensive if the proposition passes." Short answer: yes. But that's only IF they use eminent domain, right? Let's check with the lawyers.

The TCA's pet law firm is Nossaman, Gunther, Knox, Elliot. One of their lawyers, John Murphy, leads the firm's Eminent Domain Practice Group. Recently he was listed among the Best Lawyers in America 2007; that particular press release cites his expertise across the eminent domain board: "His eminent domain and inverse condemnation work ranges from representing the TCAs in eminent domain matters, allowing for construction of the Orange County toll roads, to his recent successful work for a small handicapped church, the Calvary Deaf Church, against a state transportation department."

How nice of him to represent both the physically and the intellectually handicapped.


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