Property Rights Are A Constitutional Cornerstone To Be Protected By Both Republicans And Democrats

Tony Krvaric
Tony Krvaric is a small business owner in San Diego and the volunteer chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County.

Our government has long granted privately held utilities the authority to seize private property for the public good of providing electricity. However, per the State Constitution Article 1, Section 19, with that authority, the utility – much like government – must provide just compensation to the property holder for any damage caused by their equipment.

Alas, Governor Brown and key Democrats in the Legislature are poised to take the bait of a crisis manufactured by PG&E, proposing to eliminate California property owners’ Constitutional rights. At a press conference last week, Governor Brown claimed it is unfair and unrealistic to require any utility company, whose equipment causes a wildfire, to be held financially liable – despite the fact that this legal liability is rooted in our Constitution.

Gov. Brown’s proposal would strip this protection for property owners by giving away the Constitutional right to receive compensation for any harm to property caused by a utilities’ equipment.

The Governor and other lawmakers have fallen for PG&E’s threat that compensating wildfire survivors could force them into bankruptcy, even though the company has not filed the required legal notices to the SEC or their investors that such a threat is likely. Nor have Wall Street analysts supported the theory of bankruptcy. Yet, Democrats are positioning to take away cherished property rights.

As a San Diegan, I know too well the horrible devastation caused by raging wildfires. The 2007 firestorms in San Diego burned hundreds of thousands of acres, hundreds of homes, and lead to the loss of life. The devastation of the 2017 fires in Northern California and now the Carr Fire in Redding are eerily reminiscent. The aftermath of wildfires leaves families and communities devastated, as they sift through the ruins and struggle to rebuild.

I’m proud of the way SDG&E acted in my own local area.

Since the 2007 fires, SDG&E has responded reasonably and admirably. SDG&E took proactive steps with a genuine commitment to system safety—spending a billion dollars over a decade. They created a weather center that helped them stay on top of dangerous conditions and to coordinate with fire officials. They converted many wood poles into metal poles. Ahead of other IOUs (Investor Owned Utilities), they took seriously the issue of how and when to de-energize their lines in dangerous conditions.

After extensive investigations of the 2017 wildfires, CalFire determined that PG&E’s equipment caused 16 wildfires last year. Eleven of the fires were referred to local district attorney’s offices for review, due to evidence of alleged violations of state law. In response, PG&E has launched an assault on property owners, including homeowners, businesses, and tax-payer-funded local governments, in an attempt to shirk financial responsibilities.

For far too long, at the behest of special interest groups, Democrats in Sacramento have repeatedly failed to adequately fund and support responsible foresting, which includes removing excess “fuel” to prevent out-of-control fires. Now, as fires once again rage across California, Sacramento Democrats’ solution is sadly to erode property rights.

Lawmakers have a duty to stand with homeowners whose property taxes help pay for their jobs. With less than a month left for this Legislative session, let’s stop another last-minute power grab that would strip our Constitutional protections.

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