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Prop. 90 Worries L.A. Officials

City leaders fear it would stymie redevelopment projects. Backers of the measure say it would stop government abuses.

October 12, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles officials are virtually unanimous in their view of Proposition 90: It could make redevelopment projects either impossible or a lot more expensive. And it also could hinder the city's ability to enact new land-use regulations.

In recent years, one of the favored redevelopment strategies in Los Angeles has been to use the power or threat of eminent domain to acquire property and then sell it to a private developer.

For example, eminent domain or the threat of it was used to stitch together land for Staples Center in downtown and the NoHo Commons housing and retail project in North Hollywood -- projects that would have been far more difficult to pull together under Proposition 90.

The strategy behind such seizures is to encourage the development of housing and businesses that create jobs in blighted areas. Proposition 90 would change the equation by forbidding government from taking land unless it is put to a government use. It also would hike the costs of getting land for many uses, experts say.

"Our population in Los Angeles, like in many metro areas, is growing, and things like this would tie our hands when we're looking at projects to try to relieve the density we're experiencing," said City Councilman Ed Reyes, chairman of the council's planning committee.

He offered an example: In Lincoln Heights, just north of downtown, there are two crowded schools that are separated by a former industrial property. Reyes wants the city to acquire the land and possibly use it for housing built by a private developer. If eminent domain is ruled out as an option, Reyes believes, the price of the land will soar beyond what the city will ever be able to pay.

Critics of eminent domain say that such deals often benefit politically connected developers while sacrificing the rights of property owners whose property may or may not be properly characterized as "blight" -- a term they also believe is used subjectively.

Proposition 90 "will justifiably scare some city officials because their primary concern is not to lose their prerogative," said Adrian Moore, a vice president of research for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization that has opposed abuse of eminent domain.

"They shouldn't be scared because all Proposition 90 does is require the public to pay for something if they want it. It will make things more expensive, and maybe it busts some budgets, but it's time that government had to live in that world."

Outside of redevelopment, public officials in L.A. also are concerned that Proposition 90 could make the city financially liable for making land-use decisions that damage a property owner. The key word is could -- the state legislative analyst's office isn't sure exactly how big an effect Proposition 90 might have.

Businesses often oppose such rezoning laws, arguing that it's tantamount to changing the rules in the middle of the game. But elected leaders such as Reyes believe that the City Council should have the power to change zoning laws to accomplish goals such as controlling density, preserving historic structures or regulating so-called chop shops in some neighborhoods.

"I think there's a sense of clamping down on government, and it's coming at a time when we need to be more sensible and creative because the issues are only growing more complex," Reyes said.

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