Eminent Domain

Redevelopment Authorities (and Their Eminent Domain Abuses) Resurrected in California

Better hope your city doesn't think your property would look better as a Bed, Bath & Beyond


No doubt a city that fails to budget for infrastructure maintenance knows how to best use other people's property.
Credit: pasa47 / photo on flickr

Chalk up a new win for municipal central planners and the cronies who benefit from them in California. Gov. Jerry Brown, who famously killed off California's corrupt, land-stealing redevelopment agencies a few years back, has signed into law AB 2, which resurrects them under new rules.

This means once again California cities will be able to seize private property to hand over to private developers, all in the name of "improving" their communities. And it deliberately targets poor communities. Among the thresholds for a city to designate an area to start meddling (further) via a special redevelopment authority: an annual median household income less than 80 percent annual median income; unemployment at least 3 percent higher than state unemployment; crime rate 5 percent higher than median crime rate statewide; deteriorating infrastructure; and deteriorating homes and or commercial buildings. The fact that a city can declare a section subject to redevelopment partly on the basis of the city itself failing to maintain its own infrastructure is one of those things that makes you shake your head.

Here's what the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights has to say about the new program:

While many states across the nation have imposed restrictions on government's use of eminent domain for economic gain, California has expanded its power, all in the name of redevelopment. Community Revitalization Investment Authorities introduce the worst form of corporate welfare. They allow taxpayer dollars to be used to forcibly seize private property from unwilling sellers to make way for private development. As in the past, the combination of eminent domain and the potential for profit will only lead to abuse, wasteful spending and public corruption. Today was a major setback for private property rights in California."

Despite state audits that concluded that redevelopment agencies wasted taxpayer dollars and had marginal economic benefit, the Governor's action will restore redevelopment-era practices that exploited the vulnerable. The legislation introduces new blight designations that allow private property to be forcibly seized depending on the local unemployment rate, criteria beyond the control of property owners.

AB 2 does not restore the redevelopment agencies exactly as they were back in the day. Steven Greenhut noted back in May that the new law doesn't let these new authorities siphon money away from other special districts like schools and fire departments (Brown didn't eliminate the redevelopment agencies because of a love of property rights or hatred of cronyist corruption; rather, he wanted to direct the money back to the school districts to fill budget gaps). Members of the community will also be on a panel overseeing these projects. That's slightly better than previous redevelopment agencies, though I think it underestimates the number of citizen busybodies who would be more than happy to pave over their poorer neighborhoods over the possiiblity of a new movie theater.