A Victory for Property Rights in California “Blight” Case

The Institute for Justice has won a victory in an important property rights case in National City California. The trial judge set aside the city’s “blight” designation of a massive area including almost 700 properties. Had the designation survived, it would have enabled the city to condemn any of these properties at will. Here is IJ’s statement on the case, and here is an article in which city officials seek to downplay the damage.

For reasons, I discussed in this post, the National City case is a particularly egregious example of the widespread phenomenon under which local governments use of dubious blight designations to condemn property and transfer it to politically influential developers and other interest groups. The City declared a vast area to be “blighted” on the basis of extremely dubious evidence, and then refused to even make the evidence available for public scrutiny.

The problem of blight condemnations is far from limited to California. In numerous states, broad definitions of “blight” have undermined post-Kelo eminent domain reforms supposedly intended to protect property owners against eminent domain abuse. If pretty much any area can be declared blighted and condemned, no one’s land is safe unless, of course, they have a lot of political clout.

The trial court ruling is only the first step in an ongoing legal battle. California courts are historically very deferential to blight condemnations, and it’s certainly possible that the trial court will be overruled, at least on some issues.

I may have more to say on this subject later. But for now, I must conclude, as my laptop battery is running low, while I wait for my connecting flight to Istanbul at the Vienna airport.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: I have done pro bono work for the Institute for Justice on various other property rights cases. But I have not had any involvement with this one.