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NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — National City’s Redevelopment Agency, or its successor, was ordered to pay $1.9 million to cover the legal fees of the Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC).

The order came after years of legal battles between the city and the small boxing gym that caters to at-risk kids and teens in National City.

“They sent us a letter saying if you don’t sell, we’re going to eminent domain you. We’re a non profit gym, don’t have the resources, but we were very very lucky,” CYAC Board Member Victor Nunez said.

He said they were lucky because the Institute for Justice stepped in and took on their case in 2007.

The Institute for Justice represented them for free and brought on other attorneys to fight the city after it declared the gym and surrounding areas blighted.

The city’s goal was to redevelop the area and put high-rise condos in place of the gym.

“The biggest thing we did, is we believed in something. We believed the city didn’t have the right to take something that legally belonged to us,” CYAC President Clemente Casillas said.

Ultimately, the courts agreed.

In and out of court for six years, the courts ruled that National City violated the California Redevelopment Law and Public Records Act. The Redevelopment Agency would have to for the $1.9 million in legal fees and CYAC would continue operating as usual.

But National City Mayor Ron Morrison said he isn’t sold on the ruling just yet.

“We allowed them into that site on a temporary basis…the city was their biggest sponsor,” Morrison said.

The city wanted to pay fair market value for the property and snatch up 700 others nearby.

But he said the CYAC Board of Directors got into the way.

“They took over and decided they couldn’t get in the boxing ring, so they wanted to get into a different kind of a fight,” Morrison said.

He said he even found a bigger, better space for CYAC to move into, free of charge, but they didn’t want to budge.

“The city, with all of their attorneys, they were going to roll over us. That was their whole thing. we’re going to roll over this tiny gym. We’re going to take this property away from them and we’re going to build our condos,” Nunez said.

Instead, the kids and teens that CYAC service will continue boxing and learning life lessons right where they have for years, on National City Boulevard.

“They come from very bad neighborhoods,” Casillas said. “When they come here, there’s a little bit of light. And there’s an acceptance. They’re not going to go to the library or the swimming club. They’re gonna’ come box; they want to be tough, they come from tough areas.”

The kids never have to pay a penny. Instead, they pay through their hard work, often cleaning the building to keep it in great condition and learn valuable lessons about discipline.

“We are still here. We’ve taught our kids that the whole purpose is if there’s something you believe in, you’ve gotta fight for it,” Nunez said.

The mayor said their fight isn’t necessarily over.

What comes next for the city will be discussed before council on Dec. 16.