Excerpted from opening of Judge Brown’s dissent in San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco (via Power Line):
Americans are a diverse group of hard-working, confident, and creative people molded into a nation not by common ethnic identity, cultural legacy, or history; rather, Americans have been united by a dream—a dream of freedom, a vision of how free people might live. The dream has a history. The idea that property ownership is the essential prerequisite of liberty has long been “a fundamental tenet of Anglo-American constitutional thought.” (Ely, The Guardian of Every Other Right (1998) p. 43.) “Indeed, the framers saw property ownership as a buffer protecting individuals from government coercion. Arbitrary redistribution of property destroyed liberty, and thus the framers hoped to restrain attacks on property rights.” (Ibid.) “Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist” (6 The Works of John Adams, Discourses on Davila (1851 ed.) p. 280), because property and liberty are, upon examination, one and the same thing.
Private property is in essence a cluster of rights inuring to the benefit of the owner, freely exchangeable in accordance with the terms of private agreements, and recognized and protected by common consent. In the case of real property, this cluster of rights includes the right to exclude persons from certain physical space. In the case of intellectual property, it may include the right to employ a valuable method or process to the exclusion of others. In other words, private property represents zones of individual sovereignty—regions of autonomy within which we make our own choices.
But private property, already an endangered species in California, is now entirely extinct in San Francisco. The City and County of San Francisco has implemented a neo-feudal regime where the nominal owner of property must use that property according to the preferences of the majorities that prevail in the political process—or, worse, the political powerbrokers who often control the government independently of majoritarian preferences. Thus, “the lamb [has been] committed to the custody of the wolf.” (6 The Works of John Adams, supra, at p. 280.) San Francisco has redefined the American dream. Where once government was closely constrained to increase the freedom of individuals, now property ownership is closely constrained to increase the power of government. Where once government was a necessary evil because it protected private property, now private property is a necessary evil because it funds government programs.