California Eminent Domain Trial Will Demonstrate National City Violated State and Federal Constitutions, State Laws

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 11, 2011

National City, Calif.—A San Diego-area boxing gym that serves at-risk kids is showing what it takes to fight for what is right and to win. A trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 14, 2011, to decide whether National City, Calif., may declare nearly 700 properties—including the gym—“blighted,” thus freeing the city to bulldoze these properties and make way for luxury condos among other private developments. The trial will be held before the Honorable Steven R. Denton, Superior Court of California, Hall of Justice, 330 W. Broadway in San Diego, Calif.

The Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) has had to endure a series of low blows by National City’s local government in a case that time and again demonstrated how difficult it is for California property owners to defend themselves against tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers bent on eminent domain for private gain. Among other facts, the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm representing the gym, is prepared to demonstrate at trial that:

  • National City’s entire blight process was so slipshod and error-ridden that it violated the U.S. and California constitutions as well as California redevelopment law;
  • National City’s blight study had literally hundreds of errors; and
  • National City violated the Public Records Act by failing to turn over critical public records that would have helped the CYAC and the public defend their rights.


“We’ve spent more than three years getting here because National City has stonewalled at every turn and done everything possible to prevent this case from being heard on the merits, but the CYAC’s day in court is finally here,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “A trial is a search for truth, and this trial will prove that National City violated the CYAC’s constitutional rights and broke California law.”

“The law doesn’t allow the government to take away your property so that someone wealthier can have it,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. “National City’s bogus blight designation is a deliberate strategy of using ‘blight’ as a pretext for transferring property from owners of modest means, like the CYAC, to powerful developers for their private use.”

“This case is reminiscent of the California Supreme Court smackdown of National City in 1976,” Rowes said. “That landmark decision rejected the use of bogus blight designations for private economic development and National City has set itself up to be rightfully smacked down once again.

More recently, in January 2009 the California Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower court ruling that had for a short time derailed the gym’s legal challenge seeking to prove how governments in California declare property “blighted” and pave the way for eminent domain abuse. The Court of Appeals’ decision sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to allow the nonprofit CYAC to make its case that National City violated the law when it declared roughly 700 properties blighted in 2007.

“This will be the first case decided under the reforms passed by the Legislature in response to the infamous Kelo decision, and it will decide whether those reforms offer any protection for the CYAC and property owners throughout the state,” Berliner said. “National City ignored this new California law in ramming through a false blight declaration targeting humble property owners across the city. The CYAC is fighting this outrage not only for itself, but to establish precedent to protect all Californians.”

The CYAC case has received nationwide media attention, including a feature by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated titled An Unfair Fight.