Ballot Initiative Could Invalidate Rent Control Laws

By San Francisco Apartment Association

A new property rights initiative that may come before voters in June has a provision that would phase out San Francisco ’s rent control laws. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed an initiative late last year with the California Attorney General’s Office that is similar to last November’s defeated Proposition 90 in a number of respects: it would disallow eminent domain and it would permit so-called “regulatory takings”—compensation to property owners for “damage” done to their properties due to almost any governmental regulations. However, the Jarvis initiative, entitled the California Property Owners & Farmland Protection Act, differs from Prop. 90 in one crucial way—while Prop. 90 would have only allowed regulatory takings for new legislation, the Jarvis initiative would be retroactive. The language of this initiative specifically defines “damage” as “limiting the price a property owner may charge another person to purchase, occupy or use his or her property.” Therefore, if this proposition passes, it would “nullify rent control and inclusionary housing provisions,” confirmed Jesse Smith, San Francisco ’s chief assistant city attorney. However, the change would only apply to units once they are vacated, it would not immediately decontrol units whose occupants have been living under rent control.

Smith was speaking on a panel held by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association concerning possible new eminent domain legislation. The panel was in agreement that the strong showing for Prop. 90 (it received 47.5% of the vote), despite the lack of a substantial pro-90 campaign, emboldened property rights groups to put another measure on the ballot quickly. Backers for the Jarvis initiative have begun a signature gathering campaign and hope to put the act before the voters in the June 2008 election.

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