Sometimes it seems like a never ending battle to protect private property rights in California, and while there are some victories, for the most part it is a struggle. For quite some time, Family Water Alliance has helped wage the war against California’s Redevelopment Agencies (RDA) and their abuse of eminent domain. However, with a new year upon us the effort to revive RDA, and expand their powers has reached a new height.
Redevelopment is a decades old mechanism that was created to get rid of urban blight. RDA get funding through a difficult tax formula known as tax increment. Prior to Governor Brown’s abolishment of RDA there were over 400 active agencies in California. While Governor Brown may have eliminated the most widely known abusers of eminent domain, he did not do so to protect private property rights, but to help balance our State budget.
With a slow economic recovery here in California, there have been extensive efforts to revive RDA. Just this past legislative session, Darrell Steinberg sponsored Senate Bill 1, which would bring back the abolished agencies as “sustainable communities” and help greenlight a select few development projects. SB 1 was simply an effort to greenwash redevelopment. SB 1 now sits in suspense and it is unlikely that the governor will sign it, even if it was passed.
Just before Christmas, we learned of a new effort underway to bring back RDA through the initiative process. On December 23, the law firm Rutan and Tucker, who are known for helping many California cities take private property, submitted a ballot initiative to the Attorney General’s office. The ballot measure is titled the Jobs and Education Development Initiative Act, also known as the JEDI act. If greenwashing does not work perhaps a Star Wars correlation will.
One look at the proposed JEDI act should worry all property owners in the state. Not only does the Act restore RDA, but it also increases their authority to declare a property “blighted” and seize it through eminent domain. When we all think of blight, we think of decaying, old dilapidated, unsafe buildings in urban setting, but just as we learned with Conaway Ranch, the definition of blight in California is wide-reaching and this ballot initiative sets to expand it.
The JEDI act changes the definition of blight to include; “factors that prevent or substantially hinder the viable use, reuse or capacity of buildings”. Most surprisingly, it calls for “economic” factors for determining blight. Adding “unemployment rates in the locality or the county that are in excess of the national or statewide average, as determined by the latest information from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the California Employment Development Department”. Such verbiage would allow blight designations for entire counties and most likely the entire state. With these changes to the statute the mere existence of a structure would hinder the “use of the property” and therefore be classified as blight and subject to eminent domain.
Furthermore, the initiative would extend the life RDA for 40 years and allow them to publicly finance almost anything that they wanted. While our state is still in the midst of finalizing the plans to rid California of RDA, this initiative seeks to change course. Our current administration is putting the nails in the coffin of RDA.
According to a Sacramento Bee Article “The ballot measure’s sponsors, who call themselves Redevelop California, sought $500,000 in public funds from supportive cities as seed moneyand said they would need another $13 million from non-public sources to qualify and campaign for a measure.”
Thomas Jefferson said it best; “When a government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Private property rights are paramount, not only to our constitution, but our way of life in rural California. Standing up for our values is crucial today more than ever.