Hot property |

Hot property

John HartA sign on Highway 174 near Chicago Park urges voters to approve controversial property rights initiative Measure D. Supporters say the measure will curb government land-use tyranny; opponents say it could cost the county millions.
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To Dick Tracy, Measure D represents the will of the people to act in their best interests when it comes to their property rights.

Tracy, who lives on 110 acres near Alta Sierra, fears that if voters fail to approve the Property Owner Claims Reimbursement Process, they may be doomed to suffer the indignity he endured in his attempt to split his property.

In part because Duggans Road runs through his property, Tracy claims it cost him $50,000 to split his ranch in half so that he could give part of the acreage to relatives living on part of the plot.

After two years of visits by botanists and archaeologists, and countless trips to county planning offices, Tracy finally succeeded in deeding 40 acres to his stepson.

It is a process he says he’ll never try again, in part because of the regulations required by the county for improving the land he lives on.

“It was a long, brutal process, and I feel the value of our property has been diminished because of the cost of all the regulations we had to follow. We got hammered at every turn,” he said.

Tracy is one of the proponents of the hotly contested Measure D, an initiative that, in simple terms, would create a process by which property owners and developers could present claims for reimbursement when it is determined that regulatory action has reduced the market value of an owner’s property.

While supporters of the measure say it will allow less stringent regulations on property development and create a review process with oversight by the Superior Court, opponents say it is an initiative that would seriously compromise the county’s financial well-being.

Money to pay for claims brought by property owners would come from the general fund.

“This is simply a scheme to force the county to abandon its planning tools,” said 1st District Supervisor Peter Van Zant, one of the key backers of a committee opposing Measure D.

Moreover, Van Zant said, “We can’t afford this, and that’s why I’m against it.”

Measure D follows on the heels of other property rights initiatives in other states. Voters in Oregon recently passed a similar ballot measure, though its future remains mired in a court battle. Other states have considered such measures and are watching Nevada County’s ballot measure closely, said Margaret Urke, executive director of the California Association of Business, Resource and Property Owners, and a key backer of the measure. The measure is not a response to the county’s aborted long-range planning process, Natural Heritage 2020, Urke said, but a referendum on a system that’s flawed.

“People have been so frustrated with the arrogant and arbitrary land-use processes of the county. The county has been a bit overzealous. We like to think of this as an insurance policy against future (actions) that haven’t been consistent.”

Urke said approval of the measure could be a watershed event, in the same way Proposition 13 revolutionized California’s property tax structure when voters approved it in 1978.

Still, the ballot measure remains flawed and ambiguous, say opponents.

Though backers of the measure are loath to call Measure D “a developer initiative,” former Supervisor Sam Dardick believes passage of the measure could lead to the very same unwieldy development that yielded shopping corridors in the Brunswick Basin and the Highway 49/McKnight interchange area.

“It’s an opportunity for large landowners to escape regulations that come from implementation of the General Plan, and an attempt to circumvent careful and smart planning,” he said.

The fact that the court has oversight over Measure D, too, is perplexing, Dardick said. “That seems like a strange role for the courts to play.”

As far as the correlation between NH 2020 and Measure D, “I suspect many voters will be affected over the hysteria over NH 2020 and vote for D,” Dardick said.

Though he was part of a majority that voted for Measure D to appear on the ballot, Van Zant said he was bound by state law to do so. The only other option for the supervisors was to adopt it as law.

If it passes, Van Zant and those opposed to Measure D believe the measure’s backers may never get the chance to see it put to use.

“This will end up in court … even its backers know it will,” Van Zant said.

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