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    Stopping Stealth Advocacy On Eminent Domain

    (August 30, 2005) -- LB City Hall's biggest revenue source is property tax...and every LB homeowner should be incensed that even one dime of it went to three private groups -- the "U.S. Conference of Mayors" (led in part by LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill), the "National League of Cities" (common convention junket destination) and "League of CA Cities" (supports interests of City Halls) -- that used our money (costly dues, memberships, subscriptions, convention registrations and more) to file a "Friend of Court" brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the rights of property owners on eminent domain.

    The result was an appalling, 5-4 ruling criticized by principled liberals and conservatives alike because it expanded the ability of government to seize people's homes on the pretext of promoting economic progress (usually some developer's progress.)

    Yes, there are limits to this in CA but they are largely illusory and (from multiple testimony) frequently abused, which is why principled liberals and conservatives, members of Congress and state lawmakers moved to embrace legislation offering homeowners protection.

    Predictably, the groups that advocated the awful Court ruling applauded it...and adding insult to injury, the "League of CA Cities" has swung into action to try and prevent Sacramento from letting CA voters enact meaningful homeowner protections.

    • The "U.S. Conference of Mayors," the group in which LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill holds a leadership post, released a statement after the Supreme Court ruling, stating through its Executive Director that "the nation's mayors support the right of local governments to retain eminent domain to promote economic development in their individual cities. City officials continue to act in a most judicious manner as they exercise fair and balanced judgment in protecting the rights of property owners while planning for the city's overall economic viability...[W]ithout the use of eminent domain, cities cannot make the changes necessary to sustain healthy economic and demographic growth."

    • The "National League of Cities," issued a statement in filing its Supreme Court brief with groups including the League of CA Cities: "This case deals with an essential local government tool for economic development,' declared NLC Exec. Dir. Donald Borut. "While it is one case involving one city, a U.S. Supreme Court decision stopping New London [Connecticut] from using eminent domain to implement this economic development plan would have major ramifications for every municipality in America."

    • And the "League of CA Cities," which joined in the damaging Supreme Court brief, is now trying to stop a state constitutional amendment (SCA 15) protecting homeowners. Authored by State Senator Tom McClintock (R, Thousand Oaks), the measure has been backed by 45 Senate and Assembly co-authors. We've posted a guest op-ed by Sen. McClintock on the matter (using his title): Eminent Despotism. Predictably, the League of CA Cities calls SCA 15 an "extreme" measure "that would all but end the use of eminent domain for redevelopment."

    In our view, there are two issues here: one is eminent domain...and the other is stealth advocacy. Consider what really happened. With virtually no serious public discussion, no debate and no vote of those we elect to set policy, our tax dollars were handed to private, elitist groups that used it advocate policies detrimental to the interests of taxpayers who paid it.

    We don't blame the advocacy groups for this...but we do believe this problem deserves a good dose of democracy. Over 200 years ago, Americans said "no" to royal taxation without representation. Today, with the political freedoms bequeathed to us, we should say "no" when government royalty claims an entitlement to use our money to advance its interests at our expense. In this case, it's ironic that it coincides with a right demanded by Kings of old: eminent domain.

    With respect to advocacy, we support using a contemporary phrase, "Not in our names." The "U.S. Conference of Mayors," the "National League of Cities" and the "League of CA Cities" do not speak for us on these matters.

    And if you believe they're not speaking in your name either, we urge you to email State Senator McClintock's office ( and tell him that the "U.S. Conference of Mayors," the "National League of Cities" and the "League of CA Cities" don't speak for you on eminent domain. [This is our idea, not his.]

    Let him know that you support putting his proposed state constitutional amendment SCA 15 on the ballot. We suggest you :cc us ( so we'll be able to gauge the response.

    Second, our own LB City Council state legislation committee (chair, Baker, members Richardson and O'Donnell) needs to deal with this issue without delay. The Supreme Court ruling was in June; Sen. McClintock introduced his legislation in July. We want to hear Redevelopment's Kool-Aid drinkers explain the "benefits" of eminent domain. We want see a full Council vote, one way or the other, up or down, on City Hall's support for SCA 15 before the March 2006 state legislative nominating election and April 2006 city election.

    We expect officialdom to use the same trickery they tried against Proposition 13: offering an "alternative" measure whose bottom line gives homeowners and taxpayers fewer protections than the real thing while leaving officials in the driver's seat.

    LB tax dollars helped the "U.S. Conference of Mayors," the "National League of Cities" and the "League of CA Cities" conduct what amounts to surrogate stealth advocacy in public view. We oppose letting our elected officials avoid taking positions on these major issues while sending our money to mouthpieces to deal with the political hot potatoes.

    We think LB taxpayers have a right to know how much the Council proposes to spend in the coming FY 06 budget (Council vote coming in September) to fund City Hall travel, food, lodging, memberships, subscriptions and dues for these three private advocacy groups...and the advocacy they're advancing in our names.

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