Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Mealy-Mouthed Property Rights Protection (Part 2 of 5)

September 29, 2006 | By PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION

by Timothy Sandefur

SB 1206, also by Sen. Kehoe, purports to narrow the statutory definition of "blight." This is important, because as I've often noted, California's legal definition of "blight" is so vague that virtually any property can be declared "blighted" and seized through eminent domain. Unfortunately, SB 1206 does little to fix this problem. It essentially creates two sets of criteria, and says that property is blighted if it has one item from column A and one item from column B. So here is column A:

(1) Buildings in which it is unsafe or unhealthy for persons to live or work. These conditions may be caused by serious building code violations, serious dilapidation and deterioration caused by long-term neglect, construction that is vulnerable to serious damage from seismic or geologic hazards, and faulty or inadequate water or sewer utilities.

(2) Conditions that prevent or substantially hinder the viable use or capacity of buildings or lots. These conditions may be caused by buildings of substandard, defective, or obsolete design or construction given the present general plan, zoning, or other development standards.

(3) Adjacent or nearby incompatible land uses that prevent the development of those parcels or other portions of the project area.

(4) The existence of subdivided lots that are in multiple ownership and whose physical development has been impaired by their irregular shapes and inadequate sizes, given present general plan and zoning standards and present market conditions.

Note how vague these standards are. And most of them are in the current law. Very little is changed here. What exactly does "nearby incompatible land uses that prevent the development…of the project area" mean? It means, essentially, whatever the government says it means.

Now here is column B:

(1) Depreciated or stagnant property values. [Stagnant meaning, any neighborhood where the property values are stable?]

(2) Impaired property values, due in significant part, to hazardous wastes on property…

(3) Abnormally high business vacancies, abnormally low lease rates, or an abnormally high number of abandoned buildings. [Just what is the "normal" rate of vacancies?]

(4) A serious lack of necessary commercial facilities that are normally found in neighborhoods, including grocery stores, drug stores, and banks and other lending institutions.

(5) Serious residential overcrowding that has resulted in significant public health or safety problems. As used in this paragraph, "overcrowding" means exceeding the standard referenced in Article 5 (commencing with Section 32) of Chapter 1 of Title 25 of the California Code of Regulations.

(6) An excess of bars, liquor stores, or adult-oriented businesses that has resulted in significant in public health, safety, or welfare problems.

(7) A high crime rate that constitutes a serious threat to the public safety and welfare.

Remember, only one item from each category is required. So a neighborhood is blighted if the politicians decide that it has "nearby incompatible land uses that prevent the development…of the project area" and "abnormally low lease rates."

The bill also requires cities to draft various bureaucratic reports and whatnot, but as a realistic matter, it does very little to protect private property rights.