Property-Rights Initiative Receives $200,000 Boost

OLYMPIA - A last-minute shot of $200,000 from timber companies, real-estate agents and home builders has given a boost to a grass-roots property-rights initiative.

The petition to the Legislature is to be delivered Friday with what backers say are more than enough signatures to force action next year.

The initiative would require governments to pay property owners if new regulations prohibited or severely curtailed development of their land.

Most of the money raised in the past month went to pay people to circulate the Initiative 164 petitions, said Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, one of the prime organizers and financiers of the initiative rescue effort.

As of Thanksgiving, the organization that sponsored the initiative had collected about 12,000 of the 182,000 valid signatures needed by Friday.

Since then, the paid signature-gathering effort, with oversight by a crew of experienced business lobbyists, has produced nearly 200,000 signatures.

McCabe said the effort will continue through the week with a goal of 230,000 by Friday. About 15 percent of the signatures are expected to be disqualified.

Initiative 164 is an initiative to the Legislature. If there are enough valid signatures, the 1995 Legislature will have three choices:

It can approve the initiative and, bypassing the usual requirement for the governor's signature, make it law; it can reject

the initiative, which would send it to the November 1995 ballot, or it can pass a similar version, and both measures will be forwarded to the ballot.

Property rights is the name given to the fight between landowners and government regulators.

Particularly in the state's rural counties, property owners say they should be compensated for restrictive regulations just as they would if the government took their property by eminent domain.

Rep. Clyde Ballard, an East Wenatchee Republican who will be the new House speaker, said property rights will be a priority for the Legislature, even if the initiative falls short.

The campaign was begun early this year by a loose-knit group of property-rights activists. But after the November election swept Republicans into power in the state House, McCabe said, the timing was right for business groups to get involved.

"One of the reasons we did this was Clyde was so eager," McCabe said. "He wants to have a law on the books by March."

The builders association was joined by Plum Creek Timber and other members of the Washington Forest Protection Association, the Washington Association of Realtors and Services Group of America, a Seattle conglomerate that has traditionally been a generous contributor to political campaigns.

Within three days, the groups had raised $200,000, according to Elliot Swaney of the builders group.

"Those are the groups that decided, `Hey, this may (be) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let's pool our resources and get this done,' " McCabe said.

American Petition Consultants of California was hired to collect signatures.

McCabe said it's a simple initiative. "The bottom line is if government takes your property through regulations, the government must compensate you," he said.

The initiative would require local and state governments to give reasons for new land-use regulations, say what the economic impact on property owners would be, and pay owners if the regulations restricted development.

"It was easy to get signatures for this," said Bill Arno, vice president of American Petition Consultants. "It was just a matter of getting people out there with petitions. There's a very anti-government mood, and people don't like hearing about government taking people's property."

Critics have organized a lobbying campaign to stop a property-rights bill from passing next year.

"Some of the basic protections installed under the Growth Management Act would have to be just dropped," said Gary Pivo, president-elect of 1000 Friends of Washington, a statewide group promoting full implementation of the act. "I don't know how we would come up with the money to pay people.

"Frankly, I think it's just extortion."

Pivo, an associate professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington, said the builders, realtors and timber companies "want to cripple some of the basic environmental laws we have in the country.

"They are using this initiative as a mechanism to do that, using it as an opportunity to excite people who are smaller property owners to convince them their property is being affected by regulations," he said.

McCabe said he hopes the initiative would lessen restrictions in major land-use regulations, particularly those dealing with wetlands, shorelines and the Growth Management Act.

Ballard said the initiative has an excellent chance of passing the Legislature.

"I'll tell you who I'm concerned about is the guy who has owned his property 50 or 60 years and all of a sudden government sweeps in and says we are going to change the rules and the land you own that used to be worth $50 an acre is now worth $5 an acre," Ballard said.

The initiative is similar to a bill co-sponsored this year by Sen. Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach.

He said some of his fellow Democrats that run the Senate stopped the bill.

But with at least 200,000 signatures on a petition, Snyder said he is confident the Legislature will act next year.