Redevelopment Plan Invalidated Due to Insufficient Blight Findings

June 24, 2010

In County of Los Angeles v. Glendora Redevelopment Project, the Court invalidated the City of Glendora’s Redevelopment Plan for the Merged Glendora Redevelopment Project (Plan) because the Court found that the administrative record did not contain substantial evidence of physical blight in the project area.

The Plan was adopted by the City Council of the City of Glendora in July 2006. The Plan amended the redevelopment plans for three of the City’s existing project areas, created a new project area and merged all four project areas for financing purposes and to extend the redevelopment agency’s power of eminent domain. The ordinance adopting the Plan contained findings that blight exists in the newly created project area and that it remains in the three existing project areas.

The County of Los Angeles filed a reverse validation action in September 2006 challenging the adoption of the Plan on the grounds that Glendora’s blight findings were not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court determined that Glendora’s blight findings were not supported by substantial evidence and invalidated the Plan on that basis.

On appeal, the Court considered whether Glendora’s blight findings satisfied the criteria for physical blight in Section 33031 of the Community Redevelopment Law, as it read in 2006 when the Plan was adopted. Physical blight under the 2006 iteration of Section 33031 included the following four conditions: (1) buildings in which it is unsafe or unhealthy for persons to live or work; (2) factors that prevent or substantially hinder the viable use or capacity of buildings or lots; (3) adjacent or nearby uses that are incompatible with each other and which prevent the economic development of those parcels or other portions of the project area; and (4) the existence of subdivided lots of irregular form and shape and inadequate size for proper usefulness and development that are in multiple ownership.

The Court found that there was no substantial evidence of physical blight in the project area under any of the four categories in Section 33031. Glendora’s evidence of building code violations, deteriorated or dilapidated buildings, buildings with seismic problems, and buildings containing hazardous materials in the project area was insufficient to establish physical blight under the first category because there was no evidence that these conditions rendered the buildings unsafe or unhealthy. Similarly, Glendora’s evidence of lack of parking in the project area did not establish physical blight under the second category, because Glendora did not demonstrate that the lack of parking prevented or substantially hindered the viable use or capacity of buildings or lots in the project area. As to the third category of physical blight, Glendora’s evidence of incompatible uses in the project area was inadequate, because there was no evidence that such uses were preventing development or causing lower property values. Lastly, Glendora failed to establish physical blight under the fourth category despite evidence that the project area contained smaller parcels, some of which are irregularly shaped and many of which are unbuildable, because the record did not demonstrate that these conditions rendered the parcels inadequate for proper usefulness and development.

This case emphasizes the importance of properly documenting blighting conditions in a project area prior to the adoption of a redevelopment plan. Courts consistently reject blight findings that are conclusory. Therefore, to withstand a challenge to physical blight findings, it is critical that the administrative record not only document the existence of certain conditions that are known to cause blight, such as building code violations or incompatible uses, but also demonstrate how such conditions have actually caused one of the four categories of physical blight in Section 33031.

It is also important to note that the current blight definitions in Sections 33030 and 33031 are significantly more stringent than they were in the 2006 iterations of Sections 33030 and 33031 considered by the Court in this case. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, the Legislature enacted SB 1206, which amended Sections 33030 and 33031 to “restrict the statutory definition of blight and to require better documentation of local officials’ findings regarding the conditions of blight.” For example, prior to SB 1206, blight could be established based on antiquated subdivision conditions without a showing of economic blight. Now, to establish blight, there must be a showing of both physical and economic blight.

For more information about County of Los Angeles v. Glendora Redevelopment Project and how this case could potentially impact your community's redevelopment plans, or assistance with properly documenting blight conditions in preparation for the adoption of a redevelopment plan, please contact Sue Bloch or Sabrina Wolfson at 800.464.3559.

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Sabrina Wolfson
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Sabrina Wolfson represents and advises public agencies in litigation, advice and compliance matters relating to water quality, cost recovery, reuse and redevelopment of contaminated property, environmental due diligence, solid waste and hazardous waste.