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Boxing takes center stage in a California court room over eminent domain

By Zach Arnold /Fight Opinion

When you usually think about the topic of boxing and court cases, the first thing that pops into your mind is a fighter suing a promoter or a promoter suing another promoter. What you normally don’t think of, however, are big-picture topics like eminent domain. This week, in a California court room, the topics of boxing and eminent domain have merged into a legal battle that will determine the future of many property owners in the San Diego area.

You have may heard about this story in the past from reading articles such as Rick Reilly’s 2007 Sports Illustrated column or Drew Carey’s video series for libertarian think tank Reason. At stake: The Community Youth Athletic Center located in National City, California, versus the city government that wants to take the CYAC and land from property owners in order for a developer to build condominiums. With California cash-strapped and at the brink of default, every effort to find extra cash is on the table. By allowing a developer to build new properties on areas they have designated as ‘blighted,’ it means more property tax revenue because the value of the land would be estimated at a higher price tag. In San Diego, residents there know all too well how expensive property can be. They also know that with foreclosures at an all-time high, any sort of new revenue to balance the books is needed.

With the assistance of Washington D.C. area-based Institute for Justice, the owners of the CYAC are waging a legal battle against National City government to try to stop eminent domain from being used to take their property and give it to a land developer. The case is expected to be ruled on by the end of this week and it’s ramifications are of national importance. People of all stripes (liberals, conservatives, libertarians) have been fighting campaigns against the use of eminent domain, so it’s a hot-button topic. Just ask the folks in Brooklyn about eminent domain in order for the New Jersey Nets to build a new arena in the coming years.
Part of the program at CYAC involves youth boxing as a way to get kids off the streets and into the classroom. As far as public relations goes, you couldn’t possibly pick on a worse target if you are a city government. However, money talks and as noted in this News 10 report, the mayor of National City is framing the matter as a situation where a law firm is taking a local matter and pushing a national agenda.
In this Youtube video by IJ, they talk about the court case they are fighting and what it all means. For boxing fans across the nation, it’s a story that is hard to ignore. Here’s a transcript of comments from the video.

CARLOS BARRAGAN JR.: “In this situation where eminent domain is coming in, they want to take away from the people that have invested and rooted their heart and souls into this community to maybe bring more lucrative companies into town.

“We fixed up the place and we’ve made a gun store into a youth center providing hope for inner-city kids. That’s redevelopment.

“Rather than complain about the problems in our community, we decided to do something about it. We put up two punching bags and we just went after it in the backyard of my house. It was really interesting when we started this problem to fight juvenile delinquency with the boxing, it was a two-fold success story providing juvenile diversion and fighting child obesity in the Latino community. Here in National City, one of the lowest income neighborhoods in San Diego we’re providing a resource and a center free-of-charge to low-income kids and we’re going, we’re combating against Playstation and hanging out in the house and we’re getting the kids out and we’re running and doing some good things.”

PERSON: “I get physically fit. I stay mentally focused. It helps me stay coordinated in school. Exercise like this is not easy, it’s disciplined.”

CARLOS BARRAGAN JR.: “We started out with one punching bag in the backyard of our house and progressed to a small gymnasium on the outskirts of National City and then with the help of the board directors and the help of supporters we’re able to get into the facility we’re at right now.

“It’s easy access through the buses, through the trolleys. Kids just pick up his bike and ride right on in. So, it’s really imported that, you know, we’re located here in the heart of National City.”

JEFF ROWES (IJ ATTORNEY): “In 2007, National City declared almost 700 properties ‘blighted’ in order to be able to use eminent domain against them for constitutionally illegitimate purposes.”

CARLOS BARRAGAN JR.: “It is our property. We’ve invested into it and for somebody else to say that your property is blighted just because they have a different idea of what they want to do and say that you have to move is wrong.”

JEFF ROWES (IJ ATTORNEY): “National City’s blight designation is a sham. National City had decided to declare 700 properties blighted before it even did its blight study.”

CARLOS BARRAGAN JR.: “What we have here is eminent domain being used to give to a wealthier land owner so he can rake in some bucks on the jeopardy of, you know, the back of these kids and that’s where the problem lies.

“Since we’ve been here for so long, it’s become a part of growing up in National City to come to a program like this. A kid can come in, free of charge, they can go to school, they can get some tutoring. Boxing is just the actual hook. It’s the actual avenue to get these kids into school. A lot of these young people that come to our, our school is through a juvenile court community school. They’re removed through actual public schools, they’re involved in the foster system, the juvenile probation department, and so they come to our school. They get their grades up, they get their credits up, and they’re eventually transitioned back into actual regular public school and what’s happening and the transformations that are happening, that kids came in that were doing some bad things in the community now are police officers. Now they’re going onto college. Now they want to be attorneys and what we’re doing is just providing and using the sport of boxing to get these kids to school and with the help of IJ, it’s brought education even to the kids about eminent domain.”

PERSON: “To me it’s sad because right here in National City we don’t have that many programs that help kids out. Why would you take down something that’s doing something good for the community?”

CARLOS BARRAGAN JR.: “We have decided not to move. If this was to be a park, if this was to be a library or a road that everybody could use, then that would be a public use to me. To build actual luxury condos, that is wrong.”

JEFF ROWES (IJ ATTORNEY): “Using eminent domain and bogus blight designations to transfer property from people of modest means to wealthy people is unconstitutional and is illegal under California law.”

CARLOS BARRAGAN JR.: “So, we’re going to work hard to stay where we’re at and keep on working to a goal and an objective and that’s reacting kids in our community.”

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