Who Will Redevelop Redevelopment?


Although California’s redevelopment law is among the strictest in the nation, from a layperson’s perspective, redevelopment agencies (RDAs) appear to be no more obstructed from their projects in California as they would be in, say, Connecticut. This article addresses a sort of “tragedy of the commons” problem applied to redevelopment: If redevelopment powers are “over-harvested” such as to instigate serious political revolt against them, they will become barren and useless, and will no longer be available for the purposes for which they were intended and for which they are still needed. Even assuming that redevelopment is efficacious and necessary, redevelopment law ought not be made impotent. In a post-Kelo society, redevelopment finds itself in danger of being neutered of its ability to do what it is truly meant to do: to overcome market failure in urban areas and restore and preserve the vitality of our communities. If redevelopment agencies abuse their powers by manipulating the market rather than facilitating it, they expose themselves to political attack in an already volatile property rights climate. We are in need of reform that reminds RDAs why they exist in the first place: as market-facilitators, not revenue-generators.

The problem cannot be properly addressed at the local level. In the example of 99 Cents Only Stores v. Lancaster Redevelopment Agency, it became clear that unscrupulous businesses will employ hostage-taker strategies to capture the RDA’s eminent domain power. Cities are left resorting to economically-cogent-yet-legally-pathetic claims such as “future blight” in order to appease “800 pound gorillas” like Costco or Wal-Mart. Thus it is not enough for local governments to self-regulate their use of eminent domain; the regulation must come from without. Because an ill-conceived redevelopment regime allows rent-seekers to blackmail cities, and because it entices cities to use coercive bargaining and offend landowners’ sensibilities, RDAs are in danger of ruining the tools it needs to achieve their true purpose of blight removal. Thus without careful review, RDAs threaten to kill the golden goose.

The solution lies in removing the blight from our redevelopment law, and in redeveloping the motivation that drives our redevelopment agencies.


Constitutional Law | Housing Law | Land Use Law | Law | Law and Society | Property Law and Real Estate | Public Law and Legal Theory

Date of this Version

May 2006