In a 63-13 vote, Assembly Bill 2, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, passed in the California State Assembly last week. The bill allows for so-called “Community Revitalization Investment Authorities” – essentially redevelopment agencies with a different title – to acquire private property through eminent domain and make it available to big developers with the intent to build grand-scale housing or commercial and retail centers.
Back in 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown shut down redevelopment agencies as part of an attempt to balance the state budget. Now, the rebirth of redevelopment agencies puts many private property advocates in fear of Kelo-style outcomes where big developers and big investing companies back out of the redevelopment plan leaving acres of land vacant and the city in debt.
Howard Ahmanson, Jr., a private property advocate, cautioned that the bill “brings back the right of governments to exercise eminent domain against some private parties in order to resell their property to other private parties.”
Alejo’s reasoning for the rebirth of redevelopment differs greatly from those who oppose it. Alejo argues that the bill is a stepping stone towards revitalization for blighted, lower income neighborhoods where development is needed. He states that when a Community Revitalization Investment Authority is created by a city, county or special district, certain prerequisite conditions must be met. First, redevelopment plans must focus on high unemployment, low income and high crime rate areas. Additionally, one of the following four criteria must also be met:
- Unemployment is at least 3% higher that statewide median unemployment rate
- Crime rate is 5% higher than statewide median crime rate
- Deteriorated or inadequate infrastructures like streets, sidewalks, water supply, sewer treatment or processing, and parks
- Deteriorated commercial or residential structures
While this may look good on its face to some, Ahmanson argues – and we believe rightly so – that the property rights for the lower middle class and poor would be infringed while “only new and wealthy suburbs would be potentially spared from ‘redevelopment.’”
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, agrees. As one of the 13 voters against the bill she believes that while she understands her colleagues’ interest in redevelopment as an effort to counter blighted neighborhoods, she refuses to support legislation that trumps private property rights.
Alejo is persistent in arguing that the bill is needed for disadvantaged communities. Opponents argue that although disadvantaged neighborhoods need to combat such issues as blight (deteriorated residential and commercial areas), there are other avenues the State can take in order to achieve revitalization. The question is whether it is necessary to use eminent domain and leave open the possibility of eminent domain abuse.