Thursday, October 19, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions About I-933

Q. Why did Washington Farm Bureau file the Property Fairness Initiative?

A. For more than a decade, Washington Farm Bureau has urged the Legislature to protect the use and value of private property against increasing government restrictions. Unfortunately, the Legislature has failed to act, and in the meantime, regulations harming property values and restricting reasonable use of private property have only gotten worse. Farm Bureau felt it had to sponsor an initiate that protects the rights of property owners under the state and federal constitutions.

Q. What would Farm Bureau's Property Fairness Initiative require government to do?
A. First, it would require government to identify a problem before it adopts a solution. Too often government adopts broad rules or regulations to "fix" problems that don't truly exist. Lawmakers pass laws and regulators promulgate regulations that aren't always necessary. Our initiative would require government to determine that an actual problem exists before adopting a solution.

Second, our initiative would require that government identify the impact that its proposed "solution" would have on property owners -- BEFORE passing legislation or adopting rules and regulations. We believe responsible government should understand the impact of its actions on the people it represents.

Third, our initiative would require government to consider whether the problem it identified can be solved through voluntary, cooperative efforts with willing landowners, again BEFORE passing legislation or adopting broad rules and regulations that affect all landowners.

Finally, our initiative would require government to compensate property owners when legislation or regulations adopted since Jan. 1, 1996, harm property values or damage a landowner's ability to use property in ways that were legal prior to that time. Our initiative would require government to follow our state and federal constitutions, both of which prohibit government from taking or harming private property without compensation. Our initiative would protect our rights in our property guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.

Q. What if government can't or won't provide compensation to property owners?
A. First, since our initiative would require government to understand the impact that new legislation or regulations would have on property owners BEFORE those laws and regulations are adopted, government would have the option of not passing legislation or approving regulations it can't afford, and finding less costly or burdensome ways to address the situation. Remember, our initiative would require government to actually identify a problem and explore voluntary, cooperative solutions BEFORE resorting to government mandates. Second, government would have the option of waving a rule or regulation rather than paying compensation.

Q. Critics have said that Farm Bureau's Property Fairness Initiative would make it impossible for communities to protect the public's health and safety or regulate adult entertainment.
A. That's pure nonsense. The initiative clearly states that "damaging the use or value" of private property "does not include restrictions that apply equally to all property" subject to an agency's jurisdiction, including restrictions "necessary to prevent an immediate threat to human health and safety" and "limiting the location or operation of sex offender housing or adult entertainment."

Q. Why should government be forced to compensate individual property owners who may be adversely affected by land-use rules and regulations?
A. No government is forced to compensate, because of this simple fact: If government does not damage the use or value of private property, then no compensation is due. The question of compensation for damage was answered more than 100 years ago when the people of Washington adopted a Constitution that states, "No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having been first made..." The people of the United States also answered the question more than 200 years ago when they adopted a Constitution that states, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The question is not whether government should pay when its actions take or harm private property for a public purpose, but whether state and local government in Washington will be held to those standards set forth by the state and U.S. constitutions.

Q. Will Farm Bureau's initiative benefit developers?
A. Some property owners may decide to build homes or sell their land, but our Property Fairness Initiative would not open up vast amount of land to development. It is always possible that developers will buy land that is now zoned for agriculture in the hopes that someday urban growth will force counties, especially those along the I-5 corridor, to change that zoning. But our initiative would not aid them in getting property "up zoned." Our initiative is about protecting against government damaging the use and value of private property and about treating people fairly and equally. While government should compensate landowners when regulations harm property values, government does not owe speculators a profit.

Q. Now that the Oregon Supreme Court has upheld Measure 37, the property rights initiative adopted by Oregon voters in 2004, how does that affect Washington Farm Bureau's initiative?
A. While Farm Bureau's Property Fairness Initiative is significantly different from Oregon's Measure 37, it's encouraging that the Oregon Supreme Court recognized the right of the people to protect their private property rights against overzealous government regulation. More than 60 percent of the voters in Oregon were in favor of Measure 37, and we believe the people of Washington will be just as supportive of our Property Fairness Initiative.

Q. How does Farm Bureau's initiative differ from Oregon's Measure 37?
A. There are two significant differences. First, Measure 37 requires government to compensate landowners for regulations adopted anytime since the owner acquired the property. Farm Bureau's initiative requires compensation for regulations adopted since Jan. 1, 1996, which treats all property owners the same, regardless of when they or their families purchased the land. Second, going forward, our initiative would specifically require government to consider the impact of its actions BEFORE adopting regulations and to first seek voluntary, cooperative solutions.

Q. Would I-933 apply to all personal property or only to real estate?
A. I-933 would apply to all personal property, tangible and intangible. This was necessary to protect water rights and agricultural infrastructure, such as tide gates.

Q. Does that mean government would be liable for claims over regulations "damaging use or value" of vehicles, stocks and bonds, intellectual property or anything else we own?
A. In most cases, no. The initiative clearly states that "damaging the use or value" does not apply to restrictions that are applied "equally to all property subject to the agency's jurisdiction," or those that are necessary "to prevent an immediate threat to human health and safety." Property owners can sue the government over anything they want, as they can today. But the general applicability clause means they would not be able to rely in I-933.

Q. Some critics say I-933 would make it impossible for the state to fulfill its obligations under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, or other federal regulations, meaning the federal government would need to step in and assume more direct responsibility for those regulations.
A. Again, the general applicability clause referred to above would prevent this from happening. As long as the state applies the regulations "equally to all property subject to its jurisdiction" or those regulations are necessary "to prevent an immediate threat to human health and safety," I-933 would not create any problems for the state in meeting its federal obligations.

Q. Would I-933 undo the state Shorelines Management Act, since those regulations were updated after 1996, even though the original law was passed in the 1970s?
A. I-933 would not "undo" or repeal any regulations. All rules and regulations on the books today, including Shorelines Management, would remain in effect after I-933 is approved. If those regulations "damage the use or value" of private property, individual property owners would be able to file a claim with the government for compensation. If the courts find in favor of the property owner, the government would need to pay compensation, or waive the regulation, but only for that individual. In some instances, governments may decide to repeal existing regulations, or revise them to be generally applicable, to reduce their liability for compensation. But I-933 would not undo any existing regulations.

Q. Would I-933 affect the ability of counties to regulate residential density in rural areas?
A. Most rural zoning was in place before 1996, so it would not be affected by I-933. Counties that have "downsized" rural density since 1996 may be liable for compensation if the downsizing damaged use or value of the property, or they could waive regulations for property owners who could prove they had been harmed in court.

Q. Why is the Farm Bureau initiative retroactive to Jan. 1, 1996?
A. Although government adopted many comprehensive land-use plans in the 1970s and 1980s, government actions that unfairly restrict the reasonable use of property have greatly increased in the last 10 years. Our county Farm Bureau leaders agreed to make the initiative retroactive to Jan. 1, 1996, for a variety of reasons. Prior to 1996, the Growth Management Act made preserving farmland of equal importance to protecting critical areas. In 1996, counties began revising their critical area ordinances using new guidelines that made preserving agriculture secondary to "best available science." Our goal is also to introduce fairness and balance in how government regulates private property, while also providing some certainty for government and property owners. Going back farther than 1996, or back to whenever the property owner acquired the land, as Oregon did in Measure 37, would have created greater uncertainly for everyone. Our initiative would not affect land-use planning adopted prior to 1996.

Q. What makes you think voters will approve a property rights initiative in Washington?
A. Washington Farm Bureau represents thousands of farmers and ranchers and other property owners across the state and they very clearly feel the need for a property rights initiative. In addition, recent polling shows that 79 percent of the voters support a property rights measure in Washington.

Q. Why doesn't Farm Bureau's initiative specifically address the government's use of eminent domain to take private property?
A. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London that government, under the U.S. Constitution, could use eminent domain to take private property for private development. In the wake of that decision, states across the country rushed to strengthen state laws to prevent that kind of outrageous "taking" of private property. When we were drafting our initiative, it looked like our state Legislature would follow suit. Unfortunately, our state again failed to act to protect private property rights. In addition, state law requires initiatives to address a single subject. Our initiative addresses government compensation when rules and regulations harms or restricts the use of private property. While we endorse tighter restrictions on how government can exercise eminent domain to take private property, including that in our initiative could have made it susceptible to later legal challenges under the "single subject" rule.

Q. Would Farm Bureau's initiative undo the Growth Management Act?
A. No. Neither would it undo a county's comprehensive land-use planning, agricultural zoning or any similar protections. Our initiative would require government to compensation property owners when the use of their land is harmed or damaged by government action.

Q. Who wrote the Farm Bureau initiative?
A. The initiative was written by a prominent land-use attorney hired by the Washington Farm Bureau following several months of informational meetings with county Farm Bureau leaders and other interested groups. The Washington Farm Bureau board of directors approved the final language on Feb. 7.

Q. Where can I read the initiative?
A. You can read the full initiative at

Q. How can I get involved?
A. You can get involved by making a campaign contribution, writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper, putting up yardsigns, and tell your friends and neighbors about the Initiative. To make a contribution or volunteer, go to or call 206-375-7978.


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