New Bills Would Bring Back California Redevelopment

The California legislature is moving closer to passing two bills that could revive the state’s recently-dissolved redevelopment agencies. These agencies were highly controversial for their routine use of eminent domain for private gain, redirecting millions of tax dollars for subsidizing questionable projects (including a “mermaid bar” in Sacramento), and even stonewalling private attempts at revitalizing troubled neighborhoods.

As the Institute for Justice previously reported,

“…California redevelopment agencies [ran] up $30 billion in debt.  To bring some measure of fiscal sanity to the Golden State, under the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown, the California legislature abolished more than 400 RDAs in 2011.  A few months later, the California Supreme Court upheld their dissolution as constitutional.”

Now two bills would repackage and renew redevelopment.  SB 1, introduced by State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would create “sustainable community investment authorities” to foster high-density transit-orient developments and “clean” manufacturing. According to the most recent Assembly Floor Analysis, “SB 1 would permit a sustainable communities investment authority to use eminent domain without a finding of blight.”

Back in May, 27 state senators voted in favor of SB 1, enough votes to override a potential veto.  It’s also passed multiple committees in the state Assembly and now awaits a floor vote by the whole assembly. The other bill, AB 1080, introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, would create “community revitalization investment authorities,” to create affordable housing.  Like SB 1, AB 1080 would imbue these authorities with the ability to “acquire and transfer real property,” using the power of eminent domain if need be.  This bill has already overwhelmingly passed the state assembly, 54-16, and has been approved by three state senate committees.

Unsurprisingly, many property rights activists oppose both bills.  The California Alliance to Protect Property Rights is lobbying hard against SB 1 and AB 1080, unless the bills are amended to “specifically bar these authorities from abusing eminent domain for private purposes.” Meanwhile, John Gamper of the California Farm Bureau Federation criticized SB 1 for having a “chilling effect on the rights of property owners,” arguing it would “put a bull’s eye on farmers land.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo v. New London decision, politicians in the Golden State failed to meaningfully protect property owners from the abuse of eminent domain. Allowing redevelopment to return would greatly jeopardize Californians’ homes and businesses.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

Sign up to receive IJ's biweekly digital magazine, Liberty & Law along with breaking updates about our fight to protect the rights of all Americans.