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SACRAMENTO, CALIF.-California law firms with real estate, land use and environmental practices have poured more than $100,000 into the campaign to defeat a ballot measure that one leading redevelopment attorney says could cause “a real rat’s nest” in the profession. “For those who deal in eminent domain law, Proposition 90 is going to take a pretty stable statute . . . and make some pretty radical changes to it. It’s going to create a lot of uncertainty,” said T. Brent Hawkins, a shareholder at Sacramento’s McDonough Holland & Allen who serves as general counsel to the California Redevelopment Association. McDonough Holland has contributed $25,000 to the No on 90 campaign. Prop 90 policy adviser Richard Mersereau said critics are intentionally misreading the measure. “They’re scaring the hell out of people with interpretations that aren’t factually true,” he said. Dubbed the Protect Our Homes Initiative, Prop 90 would bar government agencies from seizing private property and giving it to a private developer, a transfer process that cities often use to boost tax revenues. California’s ‘Kelo’ response Supporters say the initiative is California’s response to Kelo v. City of New London, the controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing a Connecticut redevelopment agency to take residents’ homes and land through eminent domain so a private developer could build a hotel, condominiums and offices. Prop 90 would prevent a similar scenario in California, backers say, by requiring any government entity that seizes property to own and occupy that site or to lease it to another agency for a “public use.” Published polls show Prop 90 winning approval by double digits, although many likely voters did not know much about the initiative. The measure lets a jury-currently it’s a judge-decide whether the project is a legitimate public use. And it pays property owners based on their land’s highest potential value, a requirement experts say would cause purchase prices to skyrocket. “The eminent domain provisions would eliminate redevelopment,” said Andrew Schwartz, of counsel to San Francisco’s Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, where he specializes in eminent domain and land use. “Redevelopment agencies have been the primary sources of affordable housing in California outside of grants.” But lawyers like Schwartz say they’re more concerned about a second, less-publicized section of Prop 90. Regulatory takings language would require taxpayers to compensate owners whose property suffers “substantial economic loss” due to government rules.

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