Huntington Beach Finds that Redevelopment Is
Best Achieved Without Eminent Domain
The City of Huntington Beach has had a poor history with regard to eminent domain abuse. In the 1980s, this blue-collar beach community undertook a series of redevelopment projects that dramatically changed large parts of a city that had once been composed mostly of small beach bungalows, oil fields, tract homes and funky surf shops. Those buildings that had once defined Huntington Beach’s character were gradually replaced by sterile high-rises made of stucco, as City officials tried to lure big developers with lavish public subsidies and condemnations that shut down the local businesses that once gave the city its unique character. However, many of these redevelopments failed. Other cities such as Newport Beach that did not establish redevelopment zones grew economically at rates that far outpaced Huntington Beach.1
When the City proposed an idea in the late 1990s to condemn the Huntington Beach Mall and turn it over to private developers, discount retailers Montgomery Ward and Burlington Coat Factory, which owned stores at the mall, promised to fight any attempt to take their property and hand it over to someone else. Ultimately, the Huntington Beach City Council voted against using eminent domain to force the retailers out of the mall.2 So the City decided to approach redevelopment by including the discount retailers rather than replacing them. It did not take long for a developer to produce a winning proposal to reinvigorate the mall into a Mediterranean-themed shopping center, without using eminent domain. The result was a development plan that was consistent with Huntington Beach’s flavor.3 Construction on Bella Terra, the long-awaited complex, began in summer 2002, and will include Burlington Coat Factory (Montgomery Ward has since gone bankrupt), as well as a large movie theater, restaurants and stores. This was all accomplished without taking a single property through eminent domain.4
1 Jim Hinch, “In Surf City, Rebuilding Strategy Has Fans, Critics,” The Orange County Register, Nov. 24, 2001.
2 “Property Rights Victories,” The Orange County Register, Nov. 26, 2000.
3 Jim Hinch, “Mall Project Seen as a Winner; Development—Huntington Hopes to Reverse a History of Plans Falling Through,” The Orange County Register, Mar. 8, 2002.
4 Curt Seeden, “The Huntington Beach Mall Is Officially on its Way to Becoming Bella Terra, the Long-Awaited Mediterranean-Themed Shopping Center,” The Orange County Register, July 18, 2002.