Want Condos Instead? Let Youth Center Have Its Day in Court

SAN DIEGO – If National City wishes to redevelop out of existence a nonprofit community center serving youth, the organization should get its day in court, according to an ACLU amicus brief submitted in Community Youth Athletic Center v. City of National City. National City designated the area as “blighted,” a precondition to taking the land by eminent domain.

The youth center challenged the designation in court in a September 2007 filing, but the trial court threw out the case due to a minor, technical error. The youth center mistakenly published a public notice that the deadline to join its lawsuit was one business day earlier than the actual deadline. The Court accepted National City’s paradoxical argument that because the public notice provided one day too few for people to come into court to protect their rights separately, everyone’s right to access the court to protect their rights should be wiped out

“Citizens are entitled to their day in court to have these important issues decided,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “The plaintiffs are entitled to have those issues heard on the merits, not tossed out due to a hypertechnical glitch that prejudiced no one.” The brief argues that because of the possibility of discrimination—especially against minorities and the disadvantaged—it is ever more important that citizens have access to relief in the courts.

Such an inadvertent error, the ACLU argues, did not affect the city’s case nor, in real terms, the public. A right of access to the courts is a fundamental right recognized by the U.S. and California constitutions. The laws require courts to apply a substantial compliance standard to technical procedural requirements, especially when the dispute is between individuals and the government.

The brief, co-authored by Blair-Loy, former ACLU Board member Mary A. Lehman and the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Inc., also argues that “urban renewal” has often disproportionately affected the poor, politically underrepresented, and communities of color, making it even more important that citizens have access to relief in the courts in these cases.


Amicus Brief: CYAC v. National City