California Gym for Inner-city Kids Files Lawsuit to Battle Bogus Blight

John Kramer
John Kramer · September 25, 2007

Arlington, Va.—All Carlos Barragan and his son, Carlos, Jr., want is to keep their non-profit boxing gym for inner-city kids right where it is—in the heart of the predominantly Hispanic community it serves. But National City, Calif., a suburb of San Diego, recently re-declared the entire area “blighted” and gave itself the power to seize the gym any time in the next ten years for private development.

Now the gym is fighting back.

Today, the Barragans’ Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) filed suit in California Superior Court challenging National City’s bogus re-declaration of blight against almost 700 properties. The CYAC is represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading legal advocate against eminent domain abuse, and Rich Segal and Jim Garrett of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, L.L.P.

The CYAC must file suit now even though National City has not yet used eminent domain against the property. Under California law, the CYAC has until October 15, 2007, to challenge the July 17, 2007, National City blight ordinance. If no suit is filed, then for all practical purposes neither the CYAC nor any other property owner in the blight zone will be able to challenge the use of eminent domain for a decade.

“Recently, the City and developer have been saying they will not condemn the gym. But those promises—like all promises not to use eminent domain—are legally unenforceable,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney with IJ. IJ litigated the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which sparked a popular revolt against government’s use of eminent domain for private gain.

“The CYAC filed suit because the July blight ordinance violated the U.S. and California Constitutions and literally dozens of California redevelopment laws,” said IJ Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes. “National City withheld key information from the public prior to passing the ordinance, and then passed the ordinance for the unconstitutional purpose of private economic development,” added Rowes.

The CYAC is in just one of hundreds of blight zones across California that cover hundreds of billions of dollars in property. Local governments regularly use “blight” as a pretext for using eminent domain to transfer valuable property from people of modest means to for-profit private developers.

The California Supreme Court has not taken a case in three decades addressing statutory and constitutional limitations on redevelopment. With so many Californians facing eminent domain abuse—many of them minority and economically disadvantaged— the time is ripe for California courts to take up this important issue and restore proper constitutional limits on out-of-control redevelopment.