Mere conclusions and assumptions do not amount to substantial evidence to support a finding of physical blight, an appellate court has ruled in upholding a challenge by the County of Los Angeles against the City of Glendora. 

In this case, the county challenged blight findings adopted by the City of Glendora, including the Glendora Redevelopment Agency. Upholding precedent set by Evans v. City of San Jose (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1123, 1131, in which the judge ruled that "a finding that a project area is blighted is the absolute prerequisite for redevelopment," the court found that the blight findings were not supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, Glendora lacked any eminent domain authority in this instance.

Over the years, Glendora's redevelopment area had grown from one to five project areas. In 2006, Glendora adopted an ordinance approving the redevelopment plan for four of the five project areas. As required, the ordinance concluded that blight existed in all four project areas. This conclusion was generally based on a report by consultant Robert Miars concerning blight data in Project Area 3, and reports by GRC Redevelopment Consultants completed in 2004 and 2006 concerning Project Areas 1, 2 and 5. The county opposed the adoption of the ordinance during the administrative process, and shortly after the ordinance was adopted, the county filed this lawsuit challenging Glendora's blight findings.

After the trial court found in favor of the County, Glendora appealed. On appeal, the court focused on the second of four statutory element needed to make a finding of blight, namely "the area must be ‘characterized by' one or more conditions of physical blight, as statutorily defined" as established in County of Los Angeles, 185 Cal.App.4th at 832. As to the other three elements, the court found that the area was clearly urbanized (the first element), and the court found it unnecessary to address the third and fourth statutory elements of economic blight and community burden because the required finding of physical blight under the second element was not substantiated.

Government Code section 33031, subdivision (a) outlines four conditions that constitute physical blight. Those four conditions are the following:

(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;

(4) The existence of subdivided lots of irregular form and shape and inadequate size for proper usefulness and development that are in multiple ownership. (Gov. Code, § 33031, subd. (a).)

The appellate court emphasized that each of the blight findings, including the physical blight conditions, requires that the agency show a causal connection between the evidence and the actual finding. For example, merely showing a code violation does not equate to a finding that a building is unsafe. Instead, there must be evidence in the record showing how the code violation results in an unsafe building. After going through each of the possible physical blight conditions, the court concluded that Glendora failed to show any causal connection between the actual evidence – such as code violations, sewage problems, roof and exterior building damage, defective design, and building age – and the four physical conditions that constitute physical blight.

In once instance, Glendora asserted that the buildings could possibly contain asbestos and lead-based paint and may have substandard wiring issues based on the year they were built. Regarding such claims, the court stated, "[m]ost of these blight claims do not rest on evidence; instead, they rely on assumptions based on building age" (County of Los Angeles, 185 Cal.App.4th at 842). Assumptions and presumptions do not amount to substantial evidence of unsafe or unhealthy conditions. 

Based on the lack of causal connection, the court held that the blight findings in Glendora's ordinance were not supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, Glendora was not authorized to exercise any eminent domain power. This case acts as a reminder that mere conclusions and assumptions do not amount to substantial evidence in any administrative decision. The actual connection between the evidence and the findings is necessary. More specifically, this case provides practical examples of how to craft the blight findings and the evidence that should be included in the record.


County of Los Angeles v. Glendora Redevelopment Project (2010) Cal.Rptr.3d ___ Cal.App.6th ____.


For the City of Glendora: 

Allison E. Burns, Jennifer Yu, Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, (949) 725-4000David S. Ettinger, Jeremy B. Rosen, Horvitz & Levy LLP, (818) 995-0800

For the County of Los Angeles: 

Raymond G. Fortner Jr., County Counsel Robert E. Kalunian, Acting County Counsel, Elizabeth Cortez, Assistant County Counsel, Thomas M. Tyrrell, Principal Deputy County Counsel, Kathryn Reimann, Law Offices of Kathryn Reimann, (213) 974-1811

Cori M. Badgley is an attorney with the firm of Abbott and Kindermann, LLP.