Press ReleasesJune 10, 2015
Garden Grove Families Forced Out of Homes Prevail in Lawsuit over Relocation, Replacement Housing
GARDEN GROVE, CA - A state court has ordered the California Department of Finance to approve relocation payments for families forced from their homes to make way for a taxpayer-funded water park and hotel. The ruling, issued yesterday from the Sacramento County Superior Court, will also result in funding for building new affordable housing in Garden Grove.
"This will help bring some stability back to the lives of the families who lost their homes and their community," says Nisha Vyas, an attorney with Public Counsel.
Public Counsel, the Public Interest Law Project, and Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP filed Limón v. Department of Finance in Sacramento County Superior Court last December, after the Department of Finance ignored an Orange County court judgment that more than 30 families were legally entitled to relocation costs.
The families were forced to leave their homes at the Travel Country RV Park to make way for the water park project. Because that project used taxpayer funding, the local redevelopment agency was required to pay relocation costs to families who lost their homes and build affordable replacement housing. After the agency failed to meet its obligations, the families initiated a lawsuit. The Orange County Superior Court resolved that lawsuit in 2014, and authorized relocation payments and funding for replacement housing.
But before Garden Grove could meet those obligations, the State of California stepped in the way. The Department of Finance tried to use a law phasing out redevelopment agencies to deny funds for the residents' relocation assistance-while approving $45 million in taxpayer subsidies for the water park project. This forced the residents back to court.
Today's ruling means that the families forced to move will finally receive what they have long been owed.
"We battled hard to receive the assistance we were owed after being forced from our homes," said Garden Grove resident Jose Sanchez, who owned a trailer home at the Park for nearly 13 years. "It's a relief to know that the City can finally meet its obligation to my family and our neighbors, and that the State will no longer stand in the way."
Mr. Sanchez says he will use the funds to provide for his family. He lives with his wife and three children.
The ruling also orders the state to approve funding for 38 new affordable homes, which were already approved by the City of Garden Grove and a local oversight board. Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the nonprofit Kennedy Commission, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, says this housing is vitally needed.
"Orange County residents face severe housing costs," according to Covarrubias. "But this shouldn't force people from their community. The court's ruling will enable the development of affordable housing for local families who need it."
In 2011, the Legislature passed a law that phased out redevelopment agencies. The law gives local agencies, as well as the Department of Finance, oversight authority to ensure that former redevelopment funds are used for legally-enforceable obligations. In this case, the Department tried to argue that the judgment in the original case was not enforceable. The Sacramento County Superior Court disagreed.
According to the court's ruling, "all of [the Department's] arguments lack merit."
"This ruling makes clear that the original Orange County court judgment is enforceable and must be honored by the Department of Finance," explained attorney Craig Castellanet of the Public Interest Law Project. "The Department's role here is oversight. It cannot pick and choose which local obligations to approve."
John O'Malley, a partner with law firm Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP, says that the Sacramento court has directed the Department to approve funding for the replacement housing, and ordered prompt disbursement of the families' relocation payments.