California Supreme Court Upholds Law Abolishing Redevelopment Agencies

The California Supreme Court recently issued a ruling upholding the constitutionality of a law abolishing the state’s numerous redevelopment agencies:

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday against redevelopment agencies, including San Diego’s, and said they cannot remain in business by paying the state a portion of their property tax receipts….

The court was dealing with two laws passed by the Legislature in June to help close the state budget deficit by tapping the redevelopment funds held by redevelopment agencies.

One, AB1X26, abolished the redevelopment agencies and set up a mechanism to shift the redevelopment taxes back to the cities, counties, schools and others.

The second, AB1x27, allowed the agencies to continue but required them to opt in but only by paying pay the state $1.7 billion from their tax revenues this year and about $400 million annually in the future or about 10 percent of their tax receipts….

The second law is unconstitutional, the court said, because the agencies do have a right under Proposition 22, passed last year, to retain local revenues.

“We largely uphold Assembly Bill 1X26 and invalidate Assembly BillX127,” the court said.

And so in an ironic twist of fate, the agencies won their argument that they can keep their money but lost their argument that they can continue to exist.

Although the bill abolishing the redevelopment agencies was adopted primarily for the purpose of alleviating the state’s dire fiscal problems, it also has the beneficial side effect of curtailing eminent domain abuse. As I explained in this post defending the new legislation before it passed, the redevelopment agencies routinely engaged in dubious takings that transferred property to favored interest groups and destroyed more value than they created.

The Institute for Justice – a leading libertarian public interest law firm specializing in eminent domain issues – addressed the property rights benefits of the ruling in this statement:

In a landmark victory for private property owners in the Golden State, the California Supreme Court today upheld a statute abolishing the nearly 400 redevelopment agencies across the state. The court also struck down a law that would have allowed these agencies to buy their way back into existence. The final outcome of the case is that, in 2012, California’s decades-long redevelopment nightmare will finally come to an end.

California redevelopment agencies have been some of the worst abusers of eminent domain for decades, violating the private property rights of tens of thousands of home, business, church and farm owners. The Institute for Justice has catalogued more than 200 abuses of eminent domain across California during the past ten years alone….

While the decision focused on specific provisions of the California Constitution, its practical effect represents a significant victory for California property owners. “Redevelopment in California has been a billion-dollar, state-subsidized boondoggle that has completely eroded private property rights through the abuse of eminent domain for private gain,” said Christina Walsh, the Institute’s director of activism and coalitions. “With the court’s decision, redevelopment has finally met its long-overdue end, and property owners who have been living in terror across the state can finally rest safe in what they’ve worked so hard to own.”

The ruling won’t necessarily end all eminent domain abuse in California. Other government bodies also sometimes engage in abusive takings, and it’s possible that the state legislature will give more condemnation authority to some of those agencies now that the redevelopment agencies are gone. Nevertheless, the abolition of those agencies is a major step forward for property rights in California, as well as for the state’s beleaguered taxpayers.

Proposed by a liberal Democratic governor and supported by a wide range of libertarian and conservative property rights advocates, the law upheld in this case is a good example of the kind of cross-ideological cooperation on property rights issues that we need to see more of.