Finding the Blight That's Right for California Redevelopment Law
47 Pages Posted: 14 May 2001 Last revised: 4 Mar 2014
Date Written: March 3, 2014
For over half a century federal and most state laws empowering local governments to act as urban redevelopers have attempted to confine such activity to blighted areas. Nowhere have the statutory definitions of blight, and the judicial enforcement of those standards, been more restrictive than in California. In two recent cases, Diamond Bar and Mammoth Lakes, appellate courts struck down redevelopment proposals for crossing the blight line. This paper describes those cases in light of the blight standard successfully championed in Sacramento in 1993 by the pro-redevelopment lobby to head off more restrictive legislation. Undercutting the tougher definition was, predictably, spotty enforcement. In rejecting administrative oversight at the state level, the legislature left ample room for cities and counties to adopt redevelopment projects in flagrant disregard of the 1993 law. Some cities and counties have done so and have gotten away with it.
This article describes the evolution of the blight standard, then concludes that the definition of blight ought to be relaxed to accommodate redevelopment projects undertaken to achieve sound planning objectives of the sort mandated by state planning legislation. In this way, local governments won't have to risk defying the law and playing development litigation roulette as a pre-condition to using redevelopment powers to improve their communities. More than ever, broad redevelopment powers can be useful in the revival of some declining inner suburbs built thirty to fifty years ago, and instrumental as well in coaxing higher densities of development into the cores of rapidly expanding areas to slow down "sprawl," facilitate the use of public transport, and reduce infrastructure costs.
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