Once Blighted, Always Blighted:

One of the many serious problems in current eminent domain law is that many states have definitions of "blight" so broad that virtually any area can be declared blighted and thereafter subject to condemnation whenever local governments want. I have often written about this problem (e.g. - here). A less-recognized, but also serious problem is that once an area is declared "blighted," many state laws allow the designation to persist for decades. Blight designations - and the associated power to condemn property - are allowed to persist even if local conditions change and even if there is no proof that condemnation is actually necessary to eliminate any blight that remains.

As I discuss in my paper on recent eminent domain reform efforts, California is one of many states with a broad definition of blight that allows condemnation of almost any property. However, back in 1993, the state legislature enacted a modest reform law that set a deadline of 40 years or January 1, 2009 (whichever comes later) for the completion of blight redevelopment plans begun before 1994. After the deadline, local governments could not condemn property in the "blighted" area without first getting a new blight designation (which in California is usually easy to do). Indeed, the 1993 law was enacted at the behest of California local governments themselves in order to " stave off more radical" reform efforts.

However, even this modest restriction is now unacceptable to California planning bureaucrats and the private interests that benefit from taking over condemned property in "blighted" areas. As Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee reports (hat tip: Tim Sandefur), they are trying to get the state legislature to pass a bill to extend the deadline in the 1993 law, so that the over forty year old blight "redevelopment" plans that expire on January 1, 2009 will still be able to license condemnation after that date.

I don't think you have to be a development expert to realize that a redevelopment plan that has failed to eliminate "blight" even after over forty years of trying is probably not going to succeed now. Indeed, long-lasting blight designations are likely to impede development more than promote it. After all, people are likely to hesitate to invest their money in property that could be condemned at any time. Endless blight designations are therefore unlikely to actually help develop communities - even those that are genuinely "blighted" as opposed to merely designated as such under expansive state laws. But permanent condemnation authority is a treasure trove for local politicians. They can use it to transfer condemned property to influential developers and other interest groups that can help them stay in power.