The June 3 ballot features just two propositions, but don't think that means that a simple examination will reveal which way to vote.
That's because Propositions 98 and 99, by no coincidence, deal with eminent domain, a mechanism governments use to make improvements deemed to be in a community's best interest by acquiring private property at fair market value.
There's a big difference of opinion on what constitutes a community's best interest and fair market value. And the U.S. Supreme Court made such debates even muddier, but no less rancorous, with a 2005 decision that led to the two June propositions.
In Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.), the court ruled that cities could use eminent domain to help develop private commercial projects, under the thinking that the sales tax revenue and other benefits from such projects constituted a public benefit for the city.
That decision led to calls for eminent domain reform and, in California, Proposition 90, which voters rejected in 2006.
Backers of Proposition 98 said that didn't mean the need for eminent domain reform faded. If anything, they said, California is one of the states where eminent domain is abused the most.
Marko Mlikotin, a spokesman for the Yes on 98 campaign, said the state's eminent domain laws don't protect homeowners, businesses, farmers or nonprofit groups such as churches from being forced out.
Under Proposition 98, he said, eminent domain could be used for legitimate government purposes, with ample provisions and compensation for those affected. That would apply not only to a property's value, but would remove a cap on expenses as well.
But it's another portion of Proposition 98's language that's generating more interest locally, and it's that portion that compelled the Modesto City Council to pass a resolution against the measure last month.
The proposition also would phase out rent control, which is used in many cities to prevent renters from being forced out because of rent hikes.
Mlikotin said the Yes on 98 folks see rent control as an artificial control on private property in a similar vein to eminent domain. Lumping it into the measure gave small-government advocates the chance to eliminate two irritants in one vote.
Judith Ray, Modesto's deputy city manager, said that under Proposition 98, rent control initiatives passed after Jan. 1, 2007, would be null and void. That would swat down an ordinance the city cobbled together last year to resolve disputes between mobile home park owners and tenants, she said.
"The language in the ballot measure is vague enough that we can't determine the impact," said Ray, who wrote the agenda item suggesting the council vote to oppose Proposition 98.
"You have the potential of very significant rent increases in these parks, and some of the least able to afford them would be affected," she said.
Those opposing Proposition 98 point out that landlords and mobile home park owners are among the biggest contributors to the measure.
And perhaps because it doesn't address rent control, Ray said she doesn't expect the city to take a stand on Proposition 99, which also deals with eminent domain.
That measure came out of failed legislation in Sacramento last year that would have brought together everyone interested in eminent domain reform, according to Proposition 99 backers.
When leading small-government group The Howard Jarvis Foundation walked away from that bill and pushed for Proposition 98, those remaining decided to put their own measure on the ballot as Proposition 99.
Mlikotin points out that his group's measure covers more types of property owners than Proposition 99 does. Backers of Proposition 99 counter that the other measure is overly restrictive for such endeavors as water projects, which explains why Republicans and Democrats have opposed it.
That the measures deal with the same topic, on the same ballot, is no mistake. Voters confused by two similar-sounding ballot measures often vote against both, though Proposition 99 backers insist that's not their goal.
But to buttress his side's case that Proposition 99 is a deliberate distraction, Mlikotin points out that if both measures pass, the one getting the most votes takes effect.
With machinations like that, don't be surprised if neither measure passages.
And don't expect eminent domain to lose any of its potency as a planning issue.
QUICKLY, NOW: State Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Alameda, is widely believed to be the politician who is pushing for the recall of state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater.
Perata sought to justify the recall attempt in an interview Friday by saying if it's successful, it will make it easier for state legislators to pass tax increases to balance a deficit-ridden state budget.
Just a guess, but expect to see those comments repeated in an anti-recall ad, coming soon.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.