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Justin Wolff 8:30 a.m., June 16
Gov. Jerry Brown today (Jan. 10), in revealing his budget, proposed major changes in redevelopment procedure that, if passed by the legislature, could take giant steps to eliminate abuses that have transformed laws meant to help the poor into a money machine for wealthy real estate developers. Brown "is proposing to eliminate redevelopment agencies, not redevelopment," says Vlad Kogan, PhD candidate in political science at the University of California San Diego. City councils will make redevelopment decisions, not agencies. Brown would "eliminate the legal fiction that the redevelopment agency is separate from the city." The governor's plan "eliminates the entire idea of tax increment financing -- the idea that free money would be lost" if a project weren't approved. A city council would have to OK a project and find the money to fund it. Brown would lower the threshold for voters to approve a tax increase to 55% in many cases. Under the proposed changes, "if you want to do something, you have to raise taxes; there is no incentive to create blight where none exists." Also, "The money saved will go to local governments. It creates a political constituency -- police unions, firefighter unions."
Redevelopment law is supposed to eliminate blight and provide affordable housing. But the blight is often a fiction and, particularly in San Diego, affordable housing has been neglected.
Steve Erie, professor of political science at UCSD, explains that technically, the San Diego city council is the redevelopment agency, but it routinely passes the decisions to the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC). "In San Diego we have been playing hide the pea. CCDC is a shell game. City council says it is not our decision and it lets CCDC determine where the money flows." So it flows downtown. Neighborhoods are neglected. The city slashes fire and police protection, cuts library hours, doesn't keep up with maintenance and infrastructure while it pushes for downtown projects. The staff of CCDC is largely made up of people from the development industry who pick the pockets of the neighborhoods and line the pockets of downtown developers. "Under Brown's plan there will be political accountability," says Erie, who thinks the new slogan may be "Potholes over Sports Stadiums." Kogan believes that if Brown's proposal passes, and the San Diego city council has to decide whether to plunk $600 million to $800 million into subsidizing a Chargers stadium downtown, and taxes would have to be raised, "it would be dead on arrival." Erie and Kogan are working on a paper showing how downtown Los Angeles has experienced a renaissance without taxpayer money. LA neighborhoods, meantime, have received the attention they deserve.
Under current redevelopment laws, "You can build a football stadium for a billionaire family and do it with money that otherwise would go to educating children," says Jim Mills, former president pro tem of the state senate. "CCDC has been squandering money," he says. It won't put money into needed transit, for example, even though studies say it should. "CCDC has lost its reason for existence," he says. Mills says that the development industry will put tremendous pressure on the legislature to defeat Brown's proposal. Builders have the clout and the funds to buy off legislators. "Republicans like welfare for the rich but not welfare for the poor."