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    In Depth / Perspective

    Two Groups Supported By LB Tax Dollars Work To Weaken Or Defeat Homeowner Protection/Eminent Domain Reform Legislation...Without Council Or Redevelopment Agency Board Public Discussion Or Vote

    (April 30, 2006) -- Two private advocacy groups, funded largely with public money spent by government officials, have been working to weaken or defeat Sacramento legislation supported by taxpayer and property-owner groups who say the bills are needed to reform the Redevelopment process and protect homeowners and business property owners from abuses of eminent domain.

    The most recent example came on April 26 when the CA Redevelopment Association -- in which the LB Redevelopment Agency (LB RDA) is a member -- and the "League of CA Cities" -- in which LB City Hall is a member -- opposed AB 1990 by Assemblywoman Mimi Walters (R., Laguna Niguel-Oceanside).

    The action came without any agendized public discussion, or a public vote, to take a position on the legislation by the LB City Council or the LB Redevelopment Agency governing board.

    The privately-run "League of CA Cities" and the "CA Redevelopment Association" operate in large part on public money sent to them as dues, memberships and event registrations by government officials on the public payroll...who in LB have (thus far) routinely expended the sums as "government-related." has previously criticized as "stealth lobbying" the practice of LB city entities to remain silent while third-party advocacy groups, supported in part by LB public money, take positions on controversial legislation, a mechanism that lets LB city officials evade public discussion and public votes on controversial issues of public importance.

    The LB City Council and Redevelopment Agency board may or may not hold the same views as the leadership of the "League of CA Cities" and "CA Redevelopment Ass'n"...but the public whose money they're spending has a right to know their views...especially during an election cycle.

    Although we have labelled LB City Hall's conduct stealthful, there is nothing stealthful about the positions of the League of CA Cities and CA Redevelopment Association. Their positions are public and conspicuous.

    AB 1990 by Assemblywoman Walters [co-authored by Assemblymembers Bogh, Cogdill, DeVore, Emmerson, Garcia, Harman, Haynes, Huff, La Malfa, La Suer, Leslie, Spitzer, Stricland, Villines, and Wyland] hit a brick wall in the Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee after opposition by the League of CA Cities and CA Redevelopment Ass'n.

    Assemblywoman Walters, who authored AB 1990, explained her bill as follows: "Simply put, AB 1990 states that local government may not use the power of eminent domain to take one person's property to give it to another private entity to increase the local government's tax revenue. AB 1990 protects homeowners from the abuses of eminent domain."

    Witnesses in support included Sherry Curtis, legislative consultant for Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (and representing CURE -- "Californians United For Redevelopment Education"). Ms. Curtis didn't mince words...and charged that the Assembly Housing Committee's "legislative analysis" of AB 1990 was "quite biased," almost parroting the views of the CRA.

    That drew a response from Committee chair Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D., South SF) who said his staff had independently prepared the analysis after statewide hearings, adding that he didn't share Ms. Curtis' opinions. Ms. Curtis then shot back, "It's quite obvious this Committee doesn't share anything to reform Redevelopment." posts below extended portions of the exchange between Ms. Curtis and Assemblyman Mullin and the "legislative analysis" that prompted much of it.

    In addition to opposition from the "League of CA Cities" and the "CA Redevelopment Ass'n," AB 1990 was directly opposed by the cities of Lakewood, Los Angeles and Arcadia as well as the Western Center on Law & Poverty. It went down in flames on a 2-5 Committee vote.

    The April 26 Sacramento development came just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked SCA 20, a proposed constitutional amendment authored by State Senator Tom McClintock (R., Thousand Oaks) that would let voters statewide decide on property owner protections regarding eminent domain. The "CA Redevelopment Ass'n" devotes a special link on its website to targeting SCA 20 for defeat. Entitled, "Why Public Agencies Should Oppose McClintock's SCA 20," CRA advises sending "opposition letters" regarding SCA 20 and other legislation which are contained in the "Library section of the Members' Only website." LB taxpayers [and media outlets] can't see what their City Hall "members" can access on that page and then use to defeat the legislation.

    As previously reported by, the "League of CA Cities," "National League of Cities" along with the "U.S. Conference of Mayors" [with LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill in its leadership...and without any public discussion by the City Council or RDA board] participated in a "Friend of the Court" brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against a New London, CT property owner who fought his City Hall's attempt to take his house by eminent domain which that city justified by claiming "increased taxes" from a private development would constitute a public benefit.

    By a slim 5-4 majority, the Court permitted this constitutionally...and the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities both issued press releases applauding the outcome.

    The Court's ruling produced a firestorm of opposition nationally. Legislation was introduced in Congress and state legislatures (including Sacramento) to blunt the impact of the Court's decision. The "League of CA Cities" and "CA Redevelopment Ass'n" then went to work to defeat the legislation. The groups argued that in CA (unlike Connecticut) government bodies must first make findings of "blight" before invoking eminent domain. They also claimed the legislation would cripple Redevelopment's blight-fighting work.

    Supporters of the remedial legislation said government "findings" of blight are too often pretextual and fail to protect property owners. They cite multiple examples of eminent domain abuse by government bodies.

    But with legislative remedies stymied or undermined in Sacramento, grassroots groups have mobilized to collect signatures for initiatives that would force the issue onto the ballot where the public can decide.

    Discussion of the hot-button Redevelopment legislation and eminent domain reform has until now been generally muted in LB, despite previous controversies regarding LB Redevelopment.

    Over the years, multiple City Councils have allowed roughly half of LB to be placed in Redevelopment "project areas." In these areas, officially decreed "blighted," property tax increases from new RDA developments can be diverted to pay bonds floated to pay developers to replace blighted areas. In most (though not all) of the LB's RDA project areas, eminent domain applies...although LB's RDA says it has used the power infrequently.

    LB activists have openly questioned whether Redevelopment in LB has produced net successes when balanced against its costs (which include diverting a quantum of property tax revenue to developers that could otherwise help fund police, fire, libraries and the like). In 2004, a number of LB activists pressed for an audit of one of LB Redevelopment's project areas...but others settled for an "independent study" of LB Redevelopment (which ended up recommending ways to make LB Redevelopment "better").

    With LB Redevelopment persisting as a source of disputes, City Manager Jerry Miller suggested a democratic option: have LB's elected City Council declare itself the LB RDA's governing board (replacing the current non-elected RDA Board). His suggestion was opposed by supporters of the status quo and some LB activists who said they preferred the non-elected RDA Board to the elected Council.

    Following that brouhaha, City Manager Miller hired Pat West to serve as City Hall's Director of Community Development and separately as Executive Director of LB RDA. Mr. West is widely credited with (among other things) using Redevelopment successfully in Paramount to produce tangible, visible successes.

    Speaking in his LB RDA capacity, Mr. West told that LB RDA is "in lockstep with the CRA and the League of CA Cities on the bills now-pending bills in Sacramento. Mr. West added that he was watching to see if if CRA Exec. Dir. Shirey might be able to "make lemonade out of lemons" on some of the bills...but for now, LB RDA and CRA and the League are on the same page [in opposition to much of the proposed eminent domain legislation].

    Excerpts of the Assembly Housing Committee proceedings (unofficial, transcribed by us) and the Assembly Committee legislative analysis of AB 1990 follow:

    Ms. Curtis: "...It's obvious that we need some education at this Committee. Your analysis is quite biased. It's almost a parrot of the report from the Redevelopment Association...The facts are supported by your own state documents in the Controller's office of the State of California" and proceeded to pass them out "so you might have another viewpoint besides just the standard Redevelopment Association."...

    Assemblyman Mullin: And that [legislative] analysis was independently conducted by my staff, not the Redevelopment Agency and...

    Ms. Curits: I understand, but the language is pretty similar

    Assemblyman Mullin: That analysis came after a result of hearings on this issue throughout the state, multiple hearings and so, I respect the fact that you have an opinion, one that I have to tell you I don't share.

    Ms. Curtis: I understand.

    Assemblyman Mullin: Thank you.

    Ms. Curtis: It's quite obvious this Committee doesn't share anything to reform Redevelopment.

    Assemblyman Mullin: I will treat you with respect, Ma'am. I would hope that you would do the same...

    Ms. Curtis: We're trying

    Assemblyman Mullin: This is a state agency that is entertaining a variety of bills, and try to maintain decorum, and so I don't think that personal remarks are necessary to advance that and I would appreciate that.

    Ms. Curtis: A different opinion over the facts of the situation, such as when you merge projects and why they're being merged, what was told to you today, one has more tax increment than another project, but what they didn't tell you was the fact that one project has more outstanding debt and is in danger of defaulting, and all of this can be found in the State Controller's reports of financial transactions each year...The fact is, Redevelopment Agencies have threatened and destroyed more private property than any agency in the state's history. Not for housing, not for the poor, not for anything but to create an investor's and a developer's goal of taking one piece of property away from somebody else's investment for their own investment. What this bill does is return to the public that you guys, I'm praying that you will listen to what we're trying to say to you, and it's not just Republicans against Democrats. We have [Congresswoman] Maxine Walters (D., L.A.) with us on the issue because she understands where the properties are really going and who's losing...And what we're asking you to do is to return it to normal government, to protect the constitution of California, which you swore to do...[testimony continues for about two minutes more]

    [Unidentified Assembly committee member]: ...Excuse me. Mr. Chairman, can we move on to the next witness? We know that you have a flight to catch and I wanted to talk about the topic at hand which is Assemblywoman Walters' bill on eminent domain.

    Assemblywoman Mullin: If you could summarize in a sentence or two...

    Ms. Curtis: Alright, part of the excuses on this analysis here that says we need to keep to get rid of these problems [nuisances]. Basically, I just want to say there are laws right now on the books to do that and it's not necessary...

    Testifying in opposition to AB 1990, a representatives of the CA Redevelopment Association said the bill as drafted would eliminate "public-private partnerships"...and cited efforts to deal with problem adult book stores and liquor stores. "This [bill] would eliminate our ability to cure those problems," he added.

    A representative of the "League of CA Cities" said, "For many of the same reasons, we urge a 'no' vote."

    There were no questions from members of the Committee. The bill failed on a 2-4 vote.

    We post below a salient portion of the "legislative analysis" accompanying the Assembly Housing Committee hearing on the bill:

    This bill>

    AB 1990 provides that no local government entity may take property by eminent domain and transfer it to a private party, in effect this is the same proposal suggested by others limiting eminent domain to only government owned and operated public works projects.

    The author states that following the Kelo [5-4 U.S. Supreme Court] decision [2005], local governments now have the power to condemn private land for private economic development projects. That statement is not accurate. The U.S. Supreme Court holding only addresses the Connecticut case. As noted several times in this analysis, the Supreme Court suggested that states may wish to look to states like California that have specific limitations on the use of redevelopment and eminent domain.

    Staff Comments

    It is important to emphasize that California is not Connecticut. The California Legislature has long recognized the controversial nature of eminent domain and has over the years added statutory restrictions on its use, particularly with respect to redevelopment.

    The author has provided the committee a summary of Justice O'Connor's dissenting opinion in Kelo but did not include the majority opinion which in great detail explains the legal rationale for its holding. It is significant to note that the majority opinion points to California as an example of a state which has ". . . expressed, in state eminent domain statutes that carefully limit the grounds upon which takings may be exercised."

    It is also interesting to note that after analysis of the facts of the Connecticut case and thorough discussion of the law, Justice Kennedy concludes in a separate concurring opinion: "In sum, while there may be categories of cases in which the transfers are so suspicious, or the procedures employed so prone to abuse, or the purported benefits so trivial or implausible, that courts should presume an impermissible private purpose, no such circumstances are present in this case."

    Despite the analysis by the Supreme Court, as well as a clear and accepted legal determination that what happened under Connecticut law could not happen under California law, media and citizens erupted in a hysterical furor over the issue of eminent domain. As members of the Legislature have come to realize, it has been difficult to have a reasoned discussion of public policy without the intrusion of inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric.

    Media, electronic and print, seemed to suggest that the Supreme Court endorsed the arbitrary taking of homes and businesses; that, it is now "open season" on private property. The fact of the matter is no such thing happened. The day after the Supreme Court ruling, nothing changed in California. The rules that have been in place since the 1960s, which have been consistently made more stringent, have not changed.

    In most instances the local legislative body is also the legislative body of the redevelopment agency. Redevelopment officials assert that the use of eminent domain is rarely used given the political unpopularity of such action. Given the extreme scrutiny over eminent domain following the Kelo decision, the frequency of its use has likely decreased further.

    The committee may wish to consider the following with respect to limiting the use of eminent domain to only public works projects:

    1)All public entities would be precluded from using eminent domain as a tool in acquiring parcels as part of its overall blight eradication strategy.

    2) All public entities would be precluded from condemning and acquiring nuisance properties (e.g., meth labs and other drug activities, prostitution, criminal activity generally).

    3)All public entities would be precluded from condemning and acquiring properties that have environmental contamination for the purposes of clean-up and development.

    4)All public entities would be precluded from acquiring affordable housing properties where the landowner seeks to convert the property to another use.

    The committee may wish to consider what California would look like if eminent domain could not be used to address gang havens, meth labs, or toxic sites. Many local communities struggle with absentee landlords who refuse to address hazardous conditions on their land. In many cases such landlords benefit from tax laws when properties become abandoned and fail to earn revenue.

    The committee may wish to consider whether an extreme reaction to a decision by the Supreme Court, which had nothing to do with California law, that results in limiting the ability of local public safety officials to address dangerous conditions, is sound public policy.

    As legislative proposals to reform eminent domain laws are being considered, proponents of a ballot initiative (financed by a group from New York) are gathering signatures in California for a measure which would not only prevent local government from protecting its citizens from crime and urban decay but also limit local ability to place use restrictions on land. That initiative would declare that any restriction placed on land use will be considered an unjust taking. If measures such as these are successful, the committee should consider what local communities would look like over time.

    The committee may wish to consider if there is a "McCarthy-era" like crusade to eliminate the power of government to address land use. One only has to look to the third world to see what unrestricted land-use planning looks like.

    The committee may wish to ask residents in crime ridden neighborhoods, after a project is complete where dilapidated housing and store fronts have been replaced by new buildings and affordable housing, whether they like it better before or after redevelopment.

    The committee may wish to consider whether a vote in favor of such severe restrictions of eminent domain is a vote in favor of permanent hazardous conditions.

    The right of a property owner to use his or her land for any purpose, without restrictions, works just fine until there are neighbors.

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