By John Hrabe.
California has moved one step closer to the return of redevelopment and the controversial power to seize private property through eminent domain.
The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would give local governments the power to create new entities, known as community revitalization authorities, to stimulate economically-depressed or crime-ridden areas. Assembly Bill 2 would grant these new government agencies broad powers to issue bonds for the purpose of investing tax funds in infrastructure, affordable housing and economic revitalization projects.
“Redevelopment was a multi-purpose tool that focused over $6 billion per year toward repairing and redeveloping urban cores, and building affordable housing, especially in those areas most economically and physically disadvantaged,” argues the bill’s author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, according to a legislative analysis. “Since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, communities across California are seeking an economic development tool to use.”
However, property rights advocates warn that the bill’s language contains no restrictions on eminent domain and could resurrect the abuses made possible by the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision.
“Today, the state Senate passed a land grab bill that will make it easier for government to seize homes, businesses and places of worship by eminent domain!” the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, an opponent of the bill, posted on itsFacebook page.
4 GOP Senators Join Democrats to Pass AB2
Republican Senator Anthony Cannella of Ceres, who introduced the bill on the Senate floor, argued that AB2 will provide economic stimulus to disadvantaged communities.
“This will grow jobs, reduce crime, repair deteriorating and inadequate infrastructure, clean up brownfields and promote affordable housing,” he said.
With Cannella’s support, the bill passed on a 29-10 vote — with the support of all but one Democrat and four Republicans, including Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte, Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar and Sen. Sharon Runner of Antelope Valley.
Under the bill, a Community Revitalization Investment Authority could be created by a city, county or special district if certain conditions are met. The first requirement is that the area have an annual median household income that is less than 80 percent of the statewide median. Additionally, three of the following four conditions must be met:
- Unemployment that is at least 3 percent higher than the statewide median unemployment rate;
- A crime rate that is 5 percent higher than the statewide median crime rate;
- Deteriorated or inadequate infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, water supply, sewer treatment or processing, and parks;
- Deteriorated commercial or residential structures.
Private Property Rights Threatened
Only one senator, Republican Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, spoke in opposition to the bill.
“This is the resurrection of the redevelopment agencies – the failed redevelopment agencies,” he said. “They absolutely exploited and will continue to exploit – under the provisions of this bill – the seizure of private property under eminent domain.”
Eminent domain is mentioned in the bill 21 times. The Legislative Counsel’s bill digest explicitly states, “The bill would authorize an authority to acquire interests in real property and exercise the power of eminent domain.”
Although the bill subjects private property to eminent domain, government agencies would receive a special carve-out from the practice.
“Property already devoted to a public use may be acquired by the agency through eminent domain, but property of a public body shall not be acquired without its consent,” the bill states.
Sen. Bob Huff: “We led the charge to save redevelopment”
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London that government agencies have the power to seize property for economic development. The decision was widely criticized across the political spectrum and inspired states to pass tougher laws limiting governments’ eminent domain powers. Here in California, the momentum for property rights reached its zenith in 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through a plan to end redevelopment as part of his plan to balance the state budget.
Huff, who until recently served as Senate GOP leader, downplayed the “scare stories” of eminent domain abuse by private property advocates and reminded his colleagues of his past work with Sen. Rod Wright to save redevelopment agencies.
“We led the charge to protect redevelopment because it was one of the few economic developments that cities had,” Huff said on the Senate floor in support of AB2. “It was also one of the few ways to generate revenue for our affordable housing.”
With the Senate’s approval, the bill returns to the State Assembly for concurrence, where it is expected to pass with widespread support.
In May, AB2 passed by a 63-13 vote – without a single member – Republican or Democrat – voicing opposition. A dozen Assembly Republican lawmakers, including Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen, joined the Democratic majority in backing the bill.