By late July, Washington state could have the most far-reaching "takings' law in the nation - one so dramatic that even zoning might require landowner compensation.
The Washington Legislature's recent
approval of Initiative 164 has elated its
"It is a crushing blow for
big-government advocates, over-zealous state and federal
bureaucrats, and cash-laden, well-heeled environmental groups who
are out of touch with middle America," says Steve Appel, president
of the Washington State Farm Bureau.
well-heeled building trade groups, Realtors, timber companies and
the Farm Bureau revived the initiative. It failed to gain enough
support to appear on the ballot last November, but these industry
groups raised $250,000 and hired people to circulate petitions once
again, to bring the measure before the Legislature, as allowed by
"Under the guise of helping ordinary
people, this initiative was paid for by some real estate developers
and land speculators who expect to make a fortune from it," says
Gov. Mike Lowry. Despite Lowry's opposition, lawmakers approved
I-164, and because it's a "citizens' initiative" the governor
cannot veto it.
The law takes effect July 24
unless anti-initiative forces strike back. The League of Women
Voters of Washington, the Washington Environmental Council, People
for Puget Sound and others are trying to gather 90,000 signatures
for petitions that say the initiative should go to a vote of the
people next November.
I-164 prohibits the state
from regulating private property or restraining land use without
analyzing the economic impact, then publishing that analysis 30
days in advance. The initiative says land-use regulation is
anything the government does affecting private land, other than
abating a public nuisance. Public nuisance is not
These provisions alone will make it
prohibitively expensive to enact or enforce zoning regulations,
The initiative also says that any
land-use regulation for "public benefit" is a "takings' and
requires taxpayers to compensate landowners within three months.
"Takings' refers to a portion of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution which says government can't take private property for
public use without "just compensation."
least restrictive land-use law must always be adopted, the
initiative says, and property owners cannot be required to provide
maps, studies, plans or reports used in making decisions that would
restrict use of private property. So much for plat maps and real
estate development plans, say those opposing the
The initiative was started by Dan
Wood of Aberdeen, Wash., a former miniature-golf manager, who now
directs a network of property-rights advocates under the name of
the Umbrella Group. The state's Building Industry Association, two
real estate PACs, Boise Cascade Corp., Plum Creek Timber Co., the
Farm Bureau and others joined the group last December and provided
the money that made the initiative
Voters are crying for such a law, the
Building Industry Association says, citing a poll that found 77
percent of the voters "agree the government has gone too far in
regulating people's land."
But Miriam Graves,
who represents the Washington League of Women Voters on the
"Coalition on No to 164," believes the measure is so convoluted
that it will force government agencies to hire more planning
department employees and spark endless
"Jurisdictions could be sued for
zoning and they could be sued for not zoning," Graves
Lawyers in the environmental and land use
section of the Washington State Bar Association recently urged the
legislature not to approve the measure because it "is too poorly
written and too poorly integrated with existing law."
The initiative's "takings' definition is much
broader than the constitutional standard, the lawyers say, and the
language regarding compensation could lead to some ludicrous
situations. The government might, for example, be forced to
compensate the developer of an apartment complex before requiring
smoke alarms or fire exits.
The way to deal with
burdensome regulations, the lawyers conclude, is to repeal
burdensome laws, not pass new, ambiguous
For more information, contact the League of
Women Voters of Washington, 1411 Fourth Ave. Building, Suite 803,
Seattle, WA 98101.
The writer works for the
Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Pullman,