Youth Gym Prevails at the Court of Appeal: National City Violated the California Redevelopment Law and the Public Records Act

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 30, 2013

Arlington, Va.—Today, in a major victory for property rights, the Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC)—a boxing and mentoring center for at-risk kids in National City, CA—cemented its legal victory when the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling that National City violated California Redevelopment Law in declaring hundreds of properties blighted and violated the Public Records Act in failing to turn documents over to the CYAC.

This long-running battle may not be over, however, as the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling that National City violated the CYAC’s federal due process rights. That ruling may set up a constitutional showdown at the California Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal upheld the CYAC’s core claim that National City ignored the California Redevelopment Law in 2007 when it wrongfully declared nearly 700 properties blighted in an effort to renew its eminent domain power. The CYAC was among those properties and a potential target for eminent domain.

“This decision is significant because it agreed that the 2007 blight designation was invalid and because this is the first ruling applying the 2006 legislative reforms that were enacted to prevent exactly the sort of abuse seen in this case,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) Litigation Director Dana Berliner, who argued on behalf of the CYAC before the Court of Appeal. “Even though redevelopment agencies have been abolished, many legislators are working to bring them back, and today’s ruling will be the major property rights decision under any new redevelopment scheme,” she added.

The Court of Appeal also affirmed the trial court’s ruling that National City violated the Public Records Act in failing to provide documents in the possession of its police department and its private redevelopment consultant. “The Public Records ruling established two critical principles. First, documents in the possession of a government contractor can be public records subject to disclosure. Second, the Court of Appeal laid out the clearest statement yet about how government officials are expected to conduct their document searches to ensure that they produce what the public asks for,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes.

The CYAC did not prevail across the board, however. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s finding that National City violated the CYAC’s federal due process rights in failing to provide the gym with enough time and enough information to meaningfully oppose the blight designation at a crucial public hearing in June 2007. Because this ruling is out of step with other California decisions, as well as other state and federal courts, the CYAC may seek review in the California Supreme Court.

“The CYAC’s six-year struggle to protect itself and its neighbors from redevelopment abuse are a tribute to its tenacity, the property reforms instituted after the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous 2005 Kelo v. City of New London ruling, and the importance of an engaged judiciary that is willing to protect the rights of citizens,” said William Mellor, the president and general counsel of IJ.

In addition to the Institute for Justice, the CYAC is also represented by Richard Segal, Brian Martin, and Nathaniel Smith of the San Diego office of Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman.