When one thinks of California the thousands and thousands of acres of “blight” don’t normally come to mind amidst visions of beaches, redwoods and, perhaps, traffic. All that officially designated “blight” translates to billions and billions of dollars of tax money for California redevelopment agencies, which sit on vast areas of supposedly “blighted” property for decades while little actual redevelopment occurs. Because California’s definitions of blight, updated in 2006, continue to be manipulated with ease by creative local officials, almost any property in the state can meet someone’s definition of blight.
This would be bad enough in any state, but the strict rules California has for property owners who have the wherewithal to challenge a proposed blight designation make California one of the worst states for property owners. Property owners in an affected area get one chance about every decade to challenge one of these designations; for the rest of the time, properties sit vulnerable to eminent domain for private development.
Given this very precarious situation for California property owners, the Castle Coalition decided to bring together all of its data along with research done by others at the Institute for Justice into this one comprehensive study on eminent domain in California, California Scheming: What Every Californian Should Know About Eminent Domain Abuse.
Along with the statistics are the ways property owners can defend themselves and the ways in which officials on the state and local level can truly reform California’s redevelopment laws.
The press release comes after the break.
Despite 2006 Reforms, New Report Demonstrates California Desperately Needs Eminent Domain Reform
Arlington, Va.—“With more than 700 redevelopment areas, hundreds of documented abuses of eminent domain since 2001, and tens of thousands of properties threatened by eminent domain, California is one of the states most in need of real eminent domain reform,” declares the latest report from the Institute for Justice, California Scheming: What Every Californian Should Know About Eminent Domain.
Since the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Castle Coalition, a grassroots project of the Institute for Justice, has tracked eminent domain and redevelopment laws nationwide as well as the thousands of properties that have been threatened or condemned through eminent domain for private development. This latest report, California Scheming, summarizes the California legal history and areas of contention within the state’s eminent domain laws. The report also collects and summarizes previous reports and studies available on the issue of eminent domain in California.
“Not only is California one of the biggest abusers of eminent domain in the nation, its redevelopment laws and procedures are designed almost entirely to favor local officials and developers over property owners,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition. “In order to challenge an infrastructure that funnels hundreds of billions of tax dollars into redevelopment authorities, it is important for California residents to know the exact way in which state law allows them to confront this powerful development machine.”
“Our goal with this report is to provide a one-stop-shopping resource for anyone who wants to understand the current state of play when it comes to eminent domain in California,” said Chris Grodecki, the report’s author. “As things stand now, only developers, central planners and their political allies are in favor of eminent domain for private gain. Everyone else in the state—including the vast majority of small property owners and voters of all political persuasions—opposes this abuse of government power.”
The report details the process by which local municipalities can declare hundreds of acres of perfectly well-maintained property “blighted,” a condition necessary to use eminent domain in the state. California’s guidelines for declaring ‘blight’ are so vague, the report demonstrates, that every property in California is potentially at risk. The report also details the complex procedure state law requires property owners to follow in order to protect their homes and small businesses from being seized for private economic development.
In order to further aid property owners, the report also examines the few successful attempts to protect property rights in the state. Throughout California, in only five cities were residents able to prevent the abuse of eminent domain since the Kelo ruling. Additionally, only eight municipalities passed meaningful reform measures that put limits on local officials’ ability to abuse eminent domain for private development. Despite disappointing reform measures and the continued abuse of eminent domain, California has a few bright spots that can help lead not only to future reform but also to a new perspective on the concept of urban redevelopment.