California legislature did something good? Yes, and Oregon should follow.

Oregonians In Action

California abolishes redevelopment agencies – Oregon should too – stop the abuses of the eminent domain process

On Friday, the California Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Assembly Bill 1X 26, a bill approved by the California Legislature that abolished the state’s 400 redevelopment agencies.

Over the years, California’s redevelopment agencies have abused the eminent domain process hundreds of times, taking valuable private property from California families and giving it to developers to develop condos, “smart growth” developments, and other politically correct developments that the market won’t support without massive taxpayer subsidies.

The cost to California taxpayers has been staggering – according to the Institute for Justice, a group which has spent years fighting eminent domain abuse across the country, the California redevelopment agencies have siphoned billions of taxpayer dollars to fund these redevelopment schemes. In the 2005-06 fiscal year alone, California’s redevelopment agencies received $8.7 billion in tax revenues!

These taxes normally would go to fund state programs like schools, police, corrections, parks, and roads. But instead, taxpayer dollars have been diverted to finance developments that few people want, and that the market won’t support.

Last year, the California legislature had finally had enough. Facing a budget shortfall of epic proportions, the legislature voted to abolish the state’s redevelopment agencies and stop the siphoning of tax dollars. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill, and yesterday, the California Supreme Court upheld the new law.

Oregon also has a history of eminent domain abuse, although not nearly to the same extent as California’s. In Oregon, urban renewal districts are a favorite tool of local governments to siphon property taxes away from needed public services and towards “smart growth” developments favored by the planning elite.

In addition, property taxes siphoned by urban renewal districts are used to finance public transportation pet projects like light rail systems and trolleys, while at the same time cutting back on buses and other public transportation systems.

The cost of these projects is so high, and the demand so low, that the private sector would never construct these projects without enormous taxpayer subsidies. Whether they’re called redevelopment agencies or urban renewal districts, these schemes have cost American citizens billions of wasted taxpayer dollars, and hurt needed public services that we all use.

In Oregon, Oregonians In Action was able to put Ballot Measure 39 on the ballot in 2006, to stop state and local governments (and urban renewal districts) from using eminent domain to take private property from one person and transfer it to another private citizen or company.

Measure 39 has passed and has stopped one form of eminent domain abuse in its tracks. But it hasn’t stopped urban renewal districts from taking taxpayer dollars, finding willing sellers, and building things that the free market would never support, because the public doesn’t want them.

Stopping redevelopment agencies (or urban renewal districts) isn’t a partisan battle – after all, the California legislature is controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats, and Governor Brown is also a Democrat. Instead, it’s simply a matter of having the legislature live within its means, and use taxpayer dollars for true public services, not developments designed to make our land use laws (or California’s) look good.

This is one instance where the Oregon legislature should take a cue from their California counterparts.