Takings Initiatives Accountability Project

The Center for Public Integrity has set up a new website called the “Takings Initiatives Accountability ProjectIt is a good source of additional information on the initiative battles in Washington, California, Arizona and Idaho by New York real estate developer Howard Rich to severely limit any future zoning laws, growth management regulations and environmental protections.

Included is a new taped interview of Howard Rich by High County News talking about how initiatives bypassing the legislature is a good thing and how it will have a “very far reaching” impact on future regulatory actions. Rich is the Chair of Americans for Limited Government, on the Board of the CATO Institute and a libertarian free market person who was behind the term limit movement.

The Takings Initiative Accountability Project reports that Rich’s organizations have put $5 million into the four states which have active ballot campaigns to pass initiatives that promote developers rights over community rights. That is over 85% of all the money raised for these efforts.

Sounds like a true citizens effort doesn’t it? Now which of those states does Howard Rich live in?

Washington State’s Initiative 933 actually goes further than the other initiatives in that it makes the initiative retroactive to 10 year’s ago to basically do in King County’s Critical Areas Ordinance. It requires compensation for any “damage’ done to a property’s value as a result of any action taken by the state or local government. Although intended to be a “pay or waive” law there is legal ambiguity as to whether or the law is actually written to allow the government to do anything except pay the property owner.

The ballot title for I-933 is slanted to benefit the Yes campaign. The ballot title was written by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. At the time it was issued there were behind the scene rumors that there was help in drafting this title by interests sympathetic to the initiative’s sponsors. The title was challenged in Court but the Court usually defers to the Attorney General’s wording and did so in this case.

The use of the term “damages the use or value” is very ambiguous and is sure to be the subject of lawsuits galore.

Here’s the actual ballot title from the Secretary of State’s website:

Initiative Measure 933 – Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 933 concerns government regulation of private property.
This measure would require compensation when government regulation damages the use or value of private property, would forbid regulations that prohibit existing legal uses of private property, and would provide exceptions or payments.
Should this measure be enacted into law?
Yes [ ] No [ ]

» Explanatory and Pro/Con Statements» Full Text

Initiative 933 is being opposed by the Citizens for Community Protection.

Washington’s Initiative 933 doesn’t involve the issue of eminent domain. Washington State’s Constitution already requires that people be compensated if Government takes their entire property.

What the initiative is really about is the proper balance between public needs and private desires. Initiative 933 would end new zoning, growth management regulations and environmental protections that apply equally to everyone. Local government works to help stablize a community and give property owners a sense of relief that their neighborhood isn’t going to drastically change because of what a developer wants to do.

The initiative is correctly called a Developers Rights Initiative. It would benefits development interests without requiring accountability on their part. They would be able to force communities to waive any new laws and regulations from applying to them or require compensation from taxpayers.

Unfortunately the opposition is trying to frame the issue as one of takings. The issue is really one of community rights to have agreed upon rules and regulations for everyone. Waiving rules and regulations for one property owner or developer can mean that neighboring property owner’s land can lose value. But they will not be compensated. That is why I-933 is a developers rights initiative, not a property rights initiative. And that is why citizens should vote No on 933.

How an issue is perceived has a lot to do with winning. Bush and conservatives have framed some of their issues to benefit their side, like trying to redefine the inheritance tax as the death tax. Really the issue should be viewed as collecting taxes on wealth where it has appreciated in value but no tax has ever been paid on the appreciated value before the person died.

So what is I-933 about? Is it about uncontrolled development or “takings”? Is it about ending zoning and environmental protections or is it about compensation for “damaged property”?

The issue is about control over where people live and work. The so called “right” for someone to develop their property anyway they want is a loss in community control. Uncontrolled development can decrease the value of other people’s property as a result of waiving community protections for a few.

I urge citizens to vote NO on Initiative 933 this November 7th.

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