California Gym and IJ Vow to Fight Eminent Domain Abuse

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 18, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Last night, National City officials unanimously approved the extension of eminent domain authority over a popular nonprofit boxing gym and more than 600 other properties.

Every day for more than a year, inner city kids going to the local boxing center have been faced with a “Coming Soon” sign showing fancy condos in place of their gym. So it comes as no surprise that the City Council, by a vote of 3-0, gave itself the power to take the gym and hand it to a private developer at any time during the next 10 years.

“We’re going to fight the city’s outrageous plan to take away our gym so a developer can build condos for rich people,” said Victor Nuñez, vice president of the Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) and a San Diego County Deputy District Attorney. “We’re doing what we teach our kids to do; we’re standing up for what is right.”

The CYAC—a nonprofit in National City that teaches boxing to low-income, minority kids and helps them stay off the streets and avoid gangs—announced on June 19, 2007 that it was working with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to oppose the eminent domain proposal. IJ is a national public interest law firm with a long and successful history of fighting eminent domain for private gain.

Now that the city has voted, the gym has no choice but to fight back. Under California law, owners have three months to file a legal challenge after the City Council votes to approve the eminent domain authorization. After that, most of their rights are waived. If the gym waits until the city actually goes to court to take the building, it will be too late to do anything about it legally.

“National City has completely ignored state law by going ahead with its plans to replace this working class community with upscale development,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “In 2006, California passed a law requiring cities and redevelopment agencies to have better evidence and documentation for the need for eminent domain. When we told National City officials that their process violated this law, they didn’t even blink.”

“The city is using a bogus study to declare thriving, though humble, businesses ‘blighted’ so their property can be transferred to private developers,” added IJ Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes. “The gym intends to fight this outrage in court, not only for itself, but to establish precedent to protect all Californians.”

The California Supreme Court has not taken a case in three decades addressing statutory and constitutional limitations on redevelopment. With so many Californians facing gross eminent domain abuse, the time is ripe for the California Supreme Court to consider this important issue and rein in this awesome power of government.