Though not opposed to redevelopment per se, councilmembers Steve Castaneda and Rudy Ramirez had reservations about the plan and the agency’s past performance. Concerned about how neighborhoods have not gotten what they deserved in the past, Castaneda said, “We’re not telling them what we’re doing for them; we’re telling them what we want from them.”
Ramirez added to this by saying that the five-year plan “fell short” in giving clear direction. He pointed out that although “people” interpret the document to mean a communitywide dialogue will be initiated, “the words of the document actually say something else.” Ramirez said he found it suspicious that in recent meetings he’d attended “decision-makers” had already made up their minds “that this [expanding the project areas] was a good thing.” He characterized redevelopment in Chula Vista as being in an “infant state” and felt that public skepticism would not be so strong if the “redevelopment effort had seen some demonstrated results.”
In the end, only part of the five-year redevelopment plan was passed. The first vote, part A, pertained to projects in Town Centre I, which includes Chula Vista’s bayfront. The vote was 3–1 with Ramirez opposing it and Castaneda recusing himself due to a conflict of interest. In the second vote, part B, which pertained to Town Centre II and southwest Chula Vista, Thompson and Ramirez recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. Castaneda had indicated he would not support the five-year plan as written, so Cox proposed for the time being to delete residential-redevelopment expansion from part B and it was approved.
In an interview a few days later, David Danciu, of Crossroads II, explained why he had attended the meeting. Danciu had been part of the Redevelopment Agency’s advisory group, which was charged with generating the plan, but he said the expansion had come as a surprise to him.
“All of a sudden, we went to our very last meeting, and there it was — the redevelopment staff brought a document that said that one of the Redevelopment Agency’s top three objectives was to expand redevelopment into residential areas,” Danciu recalls. “It wasn’t even specific to what areas.”
Danciu said he asked the staff, “Well, what’s this all about?” Staff answered him that there were other stakeholders.
“Apparently it came from the city council,” said Danciu. “It was really a shock to me to see that pop up out of nowhere, and that led to us protesting it at the city council meeting.”
Theresa Acerro said she’d spoken out at the meeting against the plan because “the Redevelopment Agency is essentially dysfunctional. Why would you want to expand something that is that dysfunctional?”
She pointed out contradictions in the mayor’s and council’s statements about community input. “On the one hand, they’re saying at the beginning of the meeting that they’re going to hire another consultant to do another community outreach, but then you have the councilmembers — or at least Mayor Cox and Councilmember Bensoussan — insulting people who are participating and commenting. Bensoussan actually quoted from letters people had written to her and said that these people were uninformed and they didn’t know what they were talking about. Even if you don’t agree with people, you say, ‘Well, thank you for giving us your input.’ You don’t attack a community activist by name like she did. That is just not acceptable. What does that say to Joe Schmoe out there who
doesn’t dare go over to city hall because he’s scared. That’s not the way to get people involved.”
Acerro recently obtained documents through a public records request that shed light on her skepticism about the Redevelopment Agency’s transactions in the southwest part of Chula Vista. Between 1990 and 2006, the agency received $15,047,299 in tax increment money from properties in the southwest area. From this sum, money was paid out to the schools, the county, and the low-income housing set-aside, and a hefty debt service was paid. Agency staff was paid $5,728,194, according to the document. After that, there was little left to spend on the area in which the money originated. The only expenditures that directly affect the southwest community were the widening of Palomar Street, which cost $248,691, and the widening of Main Street, which cost $500,000. Both are commercial streets. Of the $15 million raised in the southwest area in this period, only $748,691 was spent there.
Chula Vista’s Redevelopment Agency generally does not get high marks. A recent Union-Tribune editorial titled “A Risky Road to Redevelopment” says of the agency, “Despite two decades of commercial redevelopment experience, the record is one of abject failure.”
Danciu’s feelings parallel this comment. “Oh, I think it’s been a disaster. I don’t see any redevelopment that I would even point to and say, ‘Wow, this is really something neat about Chula Vista.’” Danciu said the agency’s only achievements in western Chula Vista are three housing developments — Seniors on Broadway, Los Vecinos, and Spotlight on Broadway — “but for the millions of dollars they’ve spent on those things, they’re nothing. They only house 40 people each.”
During one of the advisory meetings, Danciu says he asked Eric Crockett, head of the Redevelopment Agency, “What are you working on now?” Crockett had no answer. “What they’re doing is taking redevelopment money and spreading it around to a lot of consultants,” said Danciu. “It just gets burned up in these working groups, in staff time and consultants.”