THE SUPREME COURT'S 2005 Kelo ruling upholding government power to seize peoples' houses and turn them over to private developers sent a chill through homeowners. It also sent a thrill through property rights activists who saw an opportunity to hitch the more radical parts of their agendas to ballot measures advertised simply as protection against home-stealing developers and politicians.
Last November, for example, California's ballot included a measure to block Kelo-like eminent domain but also, by the way, to effectively end basic zoning and environmental regulation. Fortunately, voters saw Proposition 90 for the Trojan horse that it was and rejected it.
But there will be other Kelo-fighting measures on at least one of the all-too-many California ballots next year. One proposal likely will pair protection against eminent domain abuse with a phaseout of rent-control laws. Rent stabilization would apply to current tenants but would elapse once they vacated their apartments. Voters must deal with that one, when the time comes, with eyes open and full awareness of its effect.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) has proposed a more modest ballot measure that directly takes on the Kelo threat without attempting to turn it into a broader, and unwarranted, political revolution. The language is not yet final and must get legislative approval before proceeding to the ballot. But its principles are sound: It would bar state or local government from condemning an owner-occupied home and transferring it to another private party.