Court Rules Chula Vista Agency Can Take Non-Blighted Property
A Superior Court ruling that blocked the Chula Vista Redevelopment Agency from condemning a 3.2-acre parcel has been overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The appellate panel rejected all arguments from the landowner and ruled that the city's eminent domain lawsuit was an appropriate action that served the public use.
In 1974, Chula Vista adopted the Bayfront Redevelopment Project for territory west of Interstate 5. In 1998, the redevelopment agency amended the project area to include land under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Unified Port District, although the district retained discretion over development.
One year later, the city, the port district and BF Goodrich Aerospace (BFG) entered into an agreement that called for a number of land exchanges. BF Goodrich had two factories in the project area, and the idea behind the agreement was for the company to close one facility and expand the other. The agreement also allowed the Port District to redevelop the 60-acre site BF Goodrich would abandon, and for the city to extend H Street to improve circulation. To make the deal work, the city had to acquire 3.2 acres owned by Rados Bros. and give it to BF Goodrich to accommodate the company's consolidation at one location.
Rados Bros. was not a willing seller, however. During a July 1999 public hearing, Rados Bros. objected to the plan. The landowner said it had signed a contract to remove vacant buildings from the site, and, therefore, it would no longer be blighted and could not be condemned. The city went ahead and filed an eminent domain complaint against the landowner.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Sheridan Reed blocked the city's plan. Judge Reed ruled that the proposed condemnation was not for a public use, that the city's "resolution of necessity" was a gross abuse of discretion, and that the proposed acquisition was a "de facto taking" by the Port District.
On appeal, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Fourth District, Division One, overruled Reed and said the city had a right to take the Rados Bros. property.
The court first dealt with the issue of public use. Acquiring property for redevelopment is clearly a public use, so the public use for taking the Rados Bros. property was presumed to have been established when the city adopted the redevelopment project, the court ruled. Thus, Rados Bros. should have challenged the redevelopment plan within 60 days of its adoption, not during a subsequent eminent domain proceeding, the court ruled.
"It appears," Justice Richard Huffman wrote for the court, "that instead of applying a conclusive presumption of blight in the Bayfront Project Area, the trial court applied the blight concept to the Rados parcel individually. However, even if Rados were to eliminate the vacant buildings from its property, the proposed taking is for a public use. … [U]nblighted property within the redevelopment district may be taken to further the objectives of the redevelopment plan."
Rados Bros. had also argued that the involvement of BF Goodrich in the deal eliminated the public purpose, but the court disagreed, saying the BF Goodrich project benefited the city.
The appellate court next addressed the question of necessity. This is where the trial court ruled the city had grossly abused it discretion because there was no evidence that BF Goodrich's consolidation at one site was a necessity. The appellate court disagreed. The project brings many benefits to the area, and the BF Goodrich consolidation requires the assemblage of land, Huffman wrote.
The court also rejected the Rados Bros. argument that the city had failed to impose adequate safeguards to ensure the condemned property would be put to public use. "The relocation agreement allots four years for BFG's relocation, and requires it within six years to commit to using the Rados property for industrial or office space," Huffman wrote. "If BFG does not comply, the [Redevelopment] Agency has a five-year option to purchase the property for $1,052,409 plus 6% interest, thereby retaining control over the ultimate development and safeguarding against BFG's speculation or profiteering."
As for the Port District being the "de facto condemnor," the Fourth District offered a different view. No law precludes the city from "undertaking redevelopment that concomitantly benefits another public entity," the court concluded.
Redevelopment Agency of the City of Chula Vista v. Rados Bros., No. D037231, 02 C.D.O.S. 483. Filed December 17, 2001. Modified January 7, 2002 and January 15, 2002. Ordered published January 16, 2002.
For Chula Vista: Charles Bird, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, (619) 699-2406.
For Rados Bros.: Roscoe Keagy, Asaro, Keagy, Freeland & McKinley, (619) 297-3170