Position Statement: Land Use, Conservation and Property Rights

Over the past twenty years or so, there has been an ongoing conflict between citizens in favor of tighter government control over the use of land, (mainly for environmental reasons – real or imagined) and citizens who are concerned about constitutional rights associated with ownership of property. Far too frequently, the conflict resulted in those supporting property rights being characterized as anti-environmental and greedy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There should be no doubt that citizens have delegated a limited and specific authority to our duly elected government to exercise control over use of land in the interest of public safety and public health. Those two elements of government involvement are especially important to home owners who need the communal benefits of fire and police protection to enjoy the use of their property. Similarly, the authority granted to government to provide for transportation through construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and ferries recognizes the inability of individual land owners to provide that network essential to the movement of good, services, and people.

Land owners have a clear interest in the conservation of natural resources and the well being of their communities. Along with the rights associated with ownership come some very demanding responsibilities. First and foremost, land owners must ensure that to preserve their rights they honor and protect the rights of all other land owners. They must not endanger others by poor building practices or maintenance of their land. They must not pollute the air or water through inappropriate activities or carelessness. They must not improperly impinge upon the peace and tranquility of their neighbors. And, perhaps most important of all, they must not demand actions by or restrictions on other landowners that are not appropriate or that they would not impose upon themselves.

Land owners must be good stewards of their property because it is the right thing to do and in their own best interest. Land ownership, a core value of the American Dream, is either the single largest investment for most Americans or the business investment that drives the economy of the nation. No rational land owner would knowingly disregard their responsibilities toward stewardship of their investment.

The understanding of the value of land and the significance of land investment is reflected in our assessment system for property taxes. The basis for property tax is that the land owner will gain best and highest use of the property being taxed. In other words, property tax assumes that all rights of property ownership are intact and fully observed and the property owner is able to exercise those rights. To understand the importance of the relationship of land use regulation, taxation and property rights, a review of property rights is in order.

The rights that are associated with property and which pass to land owners with property title are defined in a concept known as the “Bundle of Rights” which is defined as follows:

  1. The right to control the property (within the law);
  2. The right to enjoy the property (in any legal manner);
  3. The right to control access to the property (as defined by the legal rights of a property owner);
  4. The right to legally dispose of the property in part or in whole.

Land is a special case of private property because it is immobile, indestructible, and fully unique. That very uniqueness provides for the specific consideration of importance of private property ownership by the framers of our Constitution. The Constitution specifically protects against improper search and seizure (right to control access protected), deprivation of property without due process (right to control, enjoy and dispose), forced housing of soldiers (right to access). Further, the Constitution does not grant to government the power to ignore or legislate contrary to property rights because “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”.

Property rights advocates are frequently charged with “being against” everything government does related to property. Not true! Property rights advocates believe that government has a duty to enact property zoning that separates non-compatible land uses from each other. Property rights advocates support legislation that improves public safety and which are applicable to all – for example general building codes. Property rights advocates support legislation to ensure that water quality is maintained safe for human consumption. Property rights advocates support regulations for the proper control, use and availability of hazardous materials that could cause harm to the public. Property rights advocates support effective government that uses limited public resources to provide essential mandated services and makes every effort to protect the rights of individuals within their jurisdiction.

Property rights advocates support governments’ power of Eminent Domain, limited to the extent allowed by the US & WA State Constitutions. Property rights advocates are active in their community giving hours of their time and effort to make the community a safer and more pleasant place to live. Property owners volunteer their time and money to help the community provide for its children and those who are less advantaged. Property rights advocates are good citizens who have a primary interest in preserving the inalienable rights endowed to us by our creator.

Property rights advocates support and encourage educational programs and efforts to help us and teach us how to better care for our land and natural resources.

There are, of course, some things that property rights advocates do not support. Property rights advocates do not support legislative action or regulation that would reduce or eliminate “best and highest” use of property, deprive a property owner of basic constitutional rights, or diminish the use and enjoyment of private property without due process or compensation as required by the US & WA State Constitutions

Property rights advocates do not support political decisions that result in negative impact on the rights of property ownership. Property rights advocates do not support regulations offered as being protective of natural resources or wildlife that do little more than improperly restrict rights of ownership. Property rights advocates do not support legislation or regulation that assumes government ownership or control over the land or the attachments to that land that is held as private property.

Property rights advocates do not support political decisions that restrict the use and availability of land, artificially driving up land prices and manipulating the free market. Property rights advocates are the ones who speak out in the community against the very thing that most land owners are concerned about – increasingly burdensome property taxes, increasingly higher rates and fees (which are essentially more taxes) – as a result of aggressive and often unnecessary regulation imposed on property owners by a too powerful government.

In recent years it appears that governments’ efforts to “protect” natural resources – actually means to “preserve” natural resources. These resources are not to be used – but protected from use. Natural resources are a part of the land, an integral part of the property owners’ “bundle of rights”. Property rights advocates believe that natural resources on private land belong to the land owner not the government.

Private property advocates support policies that promote and encourage home ownership. Home ownership is a cornerstone of America’s free and democratic society. The opportunity for owning private property is a right granted by our Constitution The revered dream of home ownership not only of Americans but all who come to our shores is an integral part of America’s 229 year history. Survey upon survey has shown that a majority of home buyers do not want to live in densely populated urban areas. Americans still want a little piece of land, big enough for a garden and a swing set, in a single family home in the suburbs or a rural area.

Government itself has become one of the biggest obstacles to many Americans in achieving their dream of home ownership. Excessive and onerous regulation on the control and development of land, overly restrictive building codes, environmental issues and permitting processes are taking the dream of home ownership out of the reach of the average family. The opportunity for moderate and low income families to own their own home is becoming a distant memory of the past.

Property rights advocates do not support policies such as Sustainable Development, Smart Growth, the Wildlands Project or any policy, plan or effort that deprives citizens of freedom of choice as to where they will live and how they will live.

Government claims the impelling force for these policies and draconian regulations in the Northwest are to “save endangered Salmon”. Property rights advocates believe this is nothing more than a ruse backed by junk, political and manipulated science to achieve social engineering schemes.

When the harvest of “endangered” species whether by catch limits or by-catch is totally prohibited; when endangered Salmon are no longer served broiled, grilled, stuffed, baked, poached at restaurants; when consumers can no longer buy endangered Salmon at local supermarkets; when tribes that harvest 20,000 endangered Salmon when they are allowed 1,500 are punished severely by our federal agencies and courts; when an effective plan for managing scores of Salmon predators (killing if necessary) is implemented; when the effects of ocean conditions are better understood and acknowledged in the survival of Salmon – then – property owners will sit down at the table and discuss ways to solve the danger of species extinction. It is then property owners will believe that government and environmental groups are serious about “SAVING SALMON”. In the meantime, we welcome and invite voluntary and educational programs to help property owners better steward their land and natural resources.

KAPO’s message to government is “Get off my land and get out of the way of citizens’ right to live where they choose to live. Let the free market work!”

Our land is ours because we worked hard and made sacrifices to buy it, to improve it, and to care for it. We will protect our rights to our land. We are dedicated to protecting our neighbors’ rights to his land. We will not tolerate a government of the people that abuses the rights of the people that established that government. We will not accept attempts by non-elected bureaucrats to rewrite the meaning of our Constitutions or to find government authority where none exists. Following the leadership of our founding fathers, we are prepared to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to the protection and preservation of property rights for all Americans.

Property rights advocates support and will defend Amendment V to the U. S. Constitution which avows “…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation”. And the Washington State Constitution Article I, Declaration of Rights, Sec. 16 Eminent Domain, 2nd sentence – “No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having been first made…”

August 2005