Put down the legislation, and step away from the property rights

March 22, 2013 | By TONY FRANCOIS

When I posted about supporting farming on AgDay this week, I was thinking about the importance of protecting farmers’ property rights.  And maybe that legislatures should act to reduce the regulatory burdens farmers face.  On the other hand, some members of the California legislature think that supporting farmers requires stripping them of their property rights.  I guess it takes all kinds.

A friend just sent me a copy of California Assembly Bill 823, authored by freshman assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D – Stockton), who chairs California’s Assembly Agriculture Committee.  The bill requires any project that converts farm land in the state be “mitigated” by the project developer in one of two ways: (1) donate a conservation easement preventing the development of at least as many acres of farmland as the project converts, or (2) pay someone else to acquire such an easement.

One could begin and end a critique of this measure with the profound impact it will have on any landowner’s ability to develop property to the desired level of economic productivity, let alone what the owner would simply prefer to do with it.  There are other flaws in the bill, but the largest is its impairment of property rights.  It will require every farmland owner to hand over the value of the land’s development rights as a ransom for developing it, probably making almost all private projects economically unviable.  And it will violate the United States Constitution in doing so, in perhaps every imaginable scenario.

This bill is also the opposite side of a coin with which PLF is familiar.  PLF represents many entrepreneurs in their aspiration to open a new business in the face of government sanctioned cartels which exist to exclude competition.  Instead of locking free people out of an industry, AB 823 seeks to lock them in, even where farming is no longer a viable economic use of their land, or is not what they want to do anymore.  By denying liberty to those property owners, the California legislature in its “wisdom” would insist that existing land uses are forever.