We've blogged a lot in the past two months about redevelopment issues and the Governor's plan to help right California's budget by, among other things, eliminating redevelopment agencies. But most of what we've written has viewed redevelopment from the 30,000 foot level.
For policy-making decisions, viewing the big picture is hugely important. But a case making news this week out of National City reminds us that the redevelopment fight is also quite personal.
The Community Youth Athletic Center has been fighting what it perceives as an attack on its very existence for nearly four years. The battle began not as a right to take challenge in an eminent domain case, but as a challenge to the overall redevelopment plan for the area and, in particular, its determination that about 700 properties - including the CYAC's boxing gym - qualify as blighted.
This week, CYAC's lawsuit is finally reaching the trial court for a decision on the merits, after years of procedural wrangling that includes a 2009 decision by the Court of Appeal in CYAC's favor. CYAC claims that the agency failed miserably in its efforts to justify an extension of its 1995 redevelopment plan. Part of its complaint arises from changes to California law that followed 2005's infamous Kelo decision, providing additional scrutiny and procedural hurdles to the way agencies make blight findings. According to CYAC, in 2007 the agency simply did things the same half-hearted way it always had, ignoring completely the newly enacted requirements.
CYAC is represented by the Institute for Justice, self-described as the "nation's only libertarian public interest law firm" - and the firm that pushed the Kelo case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. Among other things, they've prepared a short video about the CYAC, its mission to help at risk kids, and its fight with the city. If nothing else, it's really well done:
So what's going to happen? It depends on the outcome of the current trial. If the CYAC prevails, it may get the agency's redevelopment plan invalidated, removing the threat of eminent domain to build planned luxury condominiums - at least until such time as the agency adopts a new, properly documented redevelopment plan.
Moreover, regardless of whether the agency prevails in the current lawsuit, it claims that it has no plans to condemn the CYAC's property. But if the agency wins, it could change its mind. And if it does, it's probably safe to assume CYAC will fight the government's right to take its property.
Turning back to the big picture, if the Governor gets his wish and abolishes redevelopment agencies, the whole issue may evaporate into thin air. With no redevelopment agency, there's no redevelopment plan, no blight finding, and no (even hypothetical) plan to turn the CYAC's gym into condos.
Finally, one might wonder why this battle is taking place now, if the agency says it has no plans to condemn the property. Doesn't it make more sense to have this fight only when (and if) the government decides to condemn? Probably, but that's not the way the law works.
Under California law, if someone like CYAC wants to challenge the government's blight findings, it has to do it within a limited period of time after the plan is adopted (or, as here, amended). Failure to challenge the blight findings now could make it difficult - or even impossible - to challenge them later as part of a right to take challenge.
So the parties are in court this week fighting about a possible eminent domain action that may never even have happened in a dispute that may be rendered moot if the Governor's plan is adopted.
Rick Rayl is an experienced litigator on a broad range of complex civil litigation issues. His practice is concentrated primarily on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, and other real-estate-valuation disputes. His public ...
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