NY developer Howie Rich defeated at the polls

Voters in three Western states saw through Howie Rich’s expensive con job for what it was and handed him a solid drubbing on Tuesday. Initiatives that would have wreaked havoc on land use controls and threatened to sap billions of dollars from state treasuries were rejected by voters in California, Idaho and Washington state.

Only in one state, Arizona, was Rich successful.

Nonprofits funded by Rich spent $8.6 million to finance campaigns that collected signatures in eight states to get the takings initiatives on the ballot and then  promote their passage. In four states, Missouri , Montana, Nevada and Oklahoma, the initiatives were barred from the ballot either by the courts or state officials.

Here’s how sanity prevailed on Nov. 7:

In California, Proposition 90 went down by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.  Read the measure and analysis of it is here.

In Idaho, Proposition 2 suffered a 3:1 humiliation, suffering a 76 percent to 24 percent drubbing. Read the measure here.

In Washington, voters rejected Rich’s Proposition 933 by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. Read the measure here.

Unfortunately, Arizona voters were not so perceptive. They approved Proposition 207 by 65 percent to 34 percent.  Read the measure here.

In a report published before the Nov. 7 election, Public Citizen said,

“These initiatives, falsely advertised as necessary to prevent state governments from intruding on property owners, are actually intended to serve as cash cows for developers. If approved, the initiatives would leave state governments with an unacceptable choice between rolling back decades of environmental protection rules – such as those to combat sprawl, protect wetlands and preserve clean air and water – or paying bounties to developers as ‘compensation’ for being prevented from using their land however they please.”

Although the measures differed in some detail, each would have required the state or local government to compensate owners for the loss of property value caused by new laws or regulations – for example, zoning changes or environmental controls.

Howie Rich buried the takings provision in measures that also would limit the ability of state and local governments to force owners to sell property unwillingly to the government. That process is called “eminent domain” or “condemnation.”

Last year, Howie Rich and his allies got a boost from the Supreme Court when it  affirmed the right of state and local governments to condemn private property and turn it over to developers.  That decision, in Susette Kelo, et. al., Petitioners v. City of New London, Connecticut, et. al. June 23, 2005, sparked an instantaneous backlash, prompting 26 states to adopt legislation limiting the use of eminent domain.

In 2006, a Libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation, saw the possibility of capitalizing on the Kelo outrage to accomplish far more dramatic change. The think tank recommended “Kelo-plus” campaign that would offer voters a chance to prohibit certain uses of eminent domain but would also impose severe restrictions on governments’ ability to enact regulations, like zoning, without offering compensation.

Soon, an army of paid canvassers began gathering signatures for ballot initiatives in eight Midwestern and Western states.

Tuesday’s defeat for Howie Rich was a major victory for those who value environmental preservation and control of sprawl. The question now is whether Rich will take the lesson to heart or pour more millions into similar efforts in 2008. If he does, opponents will not only have the ravages of Measure 37 in Oregon to cite. They will also have evidence provided by the workings of Arizona’s Proposition 207, which will almost certainly give us another case study on the damage done by measures depriving society of the ability to restrict development.

-John O’Donnell