Last Thursday night, Damien Schiff and I had the opportunity to speak before 150 or so gathered residents of Acton, Agua Dulce, and a few other nearby unincorporated communities of North Los Angeles County. We were invited to speak about the importance of property rights historically and today, the harm to property caused by “regulatory takings,” PLF’s role in protecting property rights, and the impacts of a newly enacted law, Senate Bill 1263. Among other things, SB 1263 prohibits local governments from issuing permits for residential construction if the homes will use hauled water.
Damien and I described the importance that the Founders placed on strong protections of property rights. After all, many critics of the Constitution were so upset at the lack of explicit protections of property that they argued for a Bill of Rights. Shortly after the Constitution was ratified, a list of protections was proposed—and quickly adopted. Included was the Fifth Amendment, the last clause of which is called the “Takings Clause,” which requires government to pay just compensation any time it takes private property for a public use.
Under the Takings Clause, regulations that heavily limit the use and value of property can be considered a “taking.” Examples are regulations that force a physical invasion of land or remove all economically viable use. In one famous case, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, a regulation that banned all development on land previously zoned for residential housing entitled the owner to compensation.
The discussion hit home for many of the gathered landowners. Much of North Los Angeles is too remote for municipal water hookups, and residential wells often do not produce enough water to meet L.A. County minimum flow requirements. Many existing homes on land with these same water issues have relied on hauled water for years. But for their unfortunate would-be neighbors, their land now cannot be developed, and their property values have dropped accordingly.
We think that these landowners may have a valid claim under Lucas. After all, they purchased land that was zoned for residential development, and SB 1263 has made that use impossible, removing all economically viable use from the land. While there has been some remedial legislation introduced in the California Assembly to provide relief to these landowners, its future is currently uncertain, and these owners may have no choice but to rely on the Constitution to vindicate their property rights.
After our talk, we spent an hour discussing these issues on a property forum. Many residents voiced their frustration at what they saw as “anti-development” measures in L.A. County. We were grateful for the opportunity to hear their stories, and to encourage them to fight for their constitutional rights in both the legislature and the courts. The event was sponsored by the Agua Dulce Town Council and the Acton Town Council.