Commentary and news from Pacific Legal Foundation (http://www.pacificlegal.org)
The PLF Sentry
Vol. 2, No. 8
April 25, 2002

Washington, D.C. - 4/25/02 - For a generation, hundreds of owners of small tracts around Lake Tahoe have been denied the opportunity to build anything on their property, through a series of back-to-back prohibitions on land use. This week, a six-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept their argument that they had suffered an unconstitutional taking of their rights. In part because each of the development moratoria was labeled as "temporary," the Court's majority ruled that the owners hadn't been deprived of all productive use of their property. Yet for the 50 or so owners who have died since the first moratorium took effect in the early 1980s, the ban on land use could not have been more permanent. Moreover, the owners who are still alive are mostly well into their sunset years; their once-bright hopes of building retirement or vacations homes have been permanently destroyed.

The Court majority did imply that its ruling was somewhat narrow, occasioned by the complex and unusual facts of this case. And it left the door open to other legal theories by which landowners who are subject to "temporary" development prohibitions might argue for compensation. Nevertheless, it did the Tahoe landowners a serious injustice by refusing to uphold their property rights.

As PLF attorney Jim Burling said on CNBC after the decision, and as PLF attorneys told interviewers with a number of major newspapers, the Foundation strongly agrees with Chief Justice Rehnquist's analysis in his dissent that while Lake Tahoe is a national treasure, the costs for its environmental protection should be borne by the public at large, not by a handful of property owners.

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