Friday, October 6, 2006

Please excuse this rant.

I am writing to complain about a very deft and guileful campaign to overturn the rule of law in our state. Specifically I mean Initiative 933, a Washington State initiative that will be up for vote in the general election on Tuesday, November 7th.

So what is 933? Basically, the so called "Property Fairness Act" will require local and state governments to compensate land owners for any value lost on their property due to legislation. For instance, if the government decides to ban tar factories in certain areas, then the government has to either pay the land owners affected for any loss incurred or waive the law. This doesn’t just apply to already existing facilities, but to anyone who says they want to develop their property in this manner. Since we all know how much money the government has laying around to pay off greedy land owners, this essentially invalidates land-use laws. And the initiative will apply retroactively to all laws passed in the state since 1996.

In the words of The Olympian: "The initiative would allow property owners who think their property has been devalued by land use and environment laws on the books since Jan. 1, 1996, to file compensation claims. Governments would have the choice of paying the claims or waiving the environmental and land use laws."

Both the State of Washington and the University of Washington have recently completed separate studies on the expected cost of this initiative assuming we keep current land-use laws in place. Both studies came up with an expected cost of about $8 billion over the next 5 years, or about $1000 per person. And you were mad about your car tabs!

Of course why would we pass such a law just to line the pockets of wealthy land owners, surely it would make more sense to just waive the current land use laws we have in place. I mean if we can't afford to pay someone to follow the law, it must not be that important anyway. We certainly find the funds to pay people to not commit murder or prostitution. Imagine the day when we pass a Corporal Fairness Act, where thousands of people file claims against the government for lost revenue from their inability to take part in prostitution. The very idea of having to compensate someone for following the law is absolutely ridiculous and self serving.

So who then in their right mind is the force behind 933? One might expect it to be local farmers angered at their inability to build 5,000 McMansions on their amber waves of grain? Actually the lead financial backer of the law is a Chicago-based organization, Americans for Limited Government. The association is sponsoring copy cat initiatives in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and North Dakota as well. Obviously they have our local interests at heart.

As for the opposition, it's made up of more than just a few hippies and socialists. In terms of organizations, they include The United Farm Workers, The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, The League of Women Voters of Washington, The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and The Cascade Land Conservancy. They are joined by local businesses such as REI and Vulcan as well as local entrepreneur Bill Gates. Even in politics former Governor Gary Locke and current Govenor Christine Gregoire have spoken out against 933. There are more who are opposed to this initiative on noon933.org.

Sadly the public is not as opposed to the initiative. According to the Seattle PI, "The independent Elway Poll surveyed registered voters in Washington state Sept. 21-24 and found that 47 percent of those questioned said they would definitely or probably support the measure, while 31 percent said they opposed it or would probably vote no."

I suppose it is possible to doubt all this doom and gloom. We were wrong about the Y2k disaster after all, so is it really going to be all that bad if the law passes? Well as chance may have it, an almost identical law "Measure 37" was passed in Oregon two years ago and is in fact the inspiration for our own initiative 933. This has been more than enough time to begin to see the results.

According to the Stranger, "Since the measure's passage, the landscape of Oregon land-use laws has changed; landowners have filed 2,940 Measure 37 claims according to the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies. One high-profile owner wants to build a gravel mine in a Clackamas County neighborhood, for example; another man is demanding $203 million in compensation not to develop a pumice mine on property he owns within Newberry National Volcanic Monument."

According to the Seattle PI, "Despite delays caused by court fights, Oregon property owners have already filed about 2,700 Measure 37 claims, aiming to develop about 143,000 acres. Most claims are designed to loosen up the zoning of farmland and forestland. Some would break small parcels into a few additional lots. Some are from billboard companies that want to put up bigger ads in Portland. Others are for developments of hundreds of new homes, resort hotels and mines. All told, the claimants demand that governments either waive land-use regulations or pay nearly $4 billion in compensation. In almost every one of the 700 claims settled to date, governments have waived the regulations."

OregonLive.com has an article that more deeply covers the billboards story in Portland. “Measure 37, which allows property owners whose land has lost value because of government regulation to seek compensation, covers land-use regulations. Portland's sign code is part of city land-use laws.”

That said, I know that our current system of land use laws is not perfect, but this is not the solution. Please vote no on this ridiculous special interest initiative.

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