Eminent Changes

A questionable proposition may dramatically inhibit the city's attempts to regulate growth

Unsurprisingly, a spokesman for the "Protect Our Homes" campaign says that opponents' fears are overstated. "We expect a big lie campaign this fall — that this initiative will cause cancer and a nuclear holocaust," says Kevin Spillane. He says that the regulatory takings clause is a natural extension of the effort to curb the use of eminent domain. "One of the common tactics that local governments will use when they're trying to get their hands on a piece of property is they will rezone it, they'll change the zoning on it to make it less valuable," he says. "They'll pressure, intimidate, and coerce property owners into selling their property, so they don't even have to use eminent domain."

Spillane also points out that the initiative would only affect future regulations, as all existing regulations would be grandfathered in. The initiative also allows existing regulations to be amended somewhat, provided the changes do not "significantly broaden the scope" of the rule. Opponents say that phrase alone guarantees years of legal wrangling, with no clear guidelines for cities in the meantime.

There's one thing that both sides agree on: Should Proposition 90 pass this November, it will take some time to figure out exactly what it means. Inside City Hall, officials fear that city-planning efforts could be stalled for years by a tangle of lawsuits and claims from property owners. And when Spillane is asked whether Proposition 90 would curtail efforts like the city's Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, he pauses for a long moment. "I'm not certain about that," he says. "I'm going to have to get back to you."

If Proposition 90 passes in November, San Francisco city planners may have a harder time controlling the spread of condos and high-rises.
Angela Poole
If Proposition 90 passes in November, San Francisco city planners may have a harder time controlling the spread of condos and high-rises.

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