If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

Jerry Brown Takes on Redevelopment

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Sunday, January 23, 2011

GOP Assemblyman Chris Norby is a former Orange County supervisor with a longtime and deep aversion to California's 425 redevelopment agencies. Some redevelopment zones may eliminate blight and provide low-income housing as originally intended, he concedes, but redevelopment also allows billions of tax dollars to bankroll the building of a lot of half-empty shopping malls, as well as sweetheart deals that pad the pockets of well-connected developers.

As Norby put it, redevelopment served as an "unknown government" that feeds "the most wasteful, the most fraudulent and the most abusive" spending in California government.

When Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was mayor of Oakland, he was a big redevelopment booster. Now that he's the governor of a state facing a $25 billion shortfall, Brown has found common ground with Norby. The governor is proposing steering $1.7 billion away from redevelopment agencies and into schools, counties and the state.

As Brown told the League of California Cities last week, when he was mayor, he "liked redevelopment. I didn't quite understand it. It seemed kind of magical. It was the money that you could spend on stuff that they wouldn't otherwise let you spend."

Translation: The system rewards local pols whether they spend the money wisely or do not. While boosters say that redevelopment fosters economic growth, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office recently reported, "we find no reliable evidence that this program improves overall economic development in California."

A 1998 Public Policy Institute report found that redevelopment agencies "generate only slightly more than half of the property tax revenues they receive each year."

So what's to like?

California passed redevelopment laws to combat urban blight, with an added mandate that 20 percent of funds go toward affordable housing. Yet a Los Angeles Times investigation found last year that 120 cities spent more than $700 million on housing without building a single new unit. Cities have declared acres of empty farmland as blight, and some agencies have torn down houses -- like some dilapidated cottages across the street from the home of the mayor of Avalon, on Catalina Island -- without replacing them.

Which gets to a point that sticks in Norby's craw -- some redevelopment agencies use the power of eminent domain to destroy modest homes and shutter blue-collar businesses.

When Brown was mayor, Oakland City Hall voted to seize small downtown businesses -- businesses like the un-tony Revelli Tire -- under eminent domain so that a private developer could build apartments on the land. First-generation American car repairman Tony Fung stood up against Oakland's legion of lawyers, but told me, "There's no way a small guy like me is able to fight that."

These were not blighted businesses -- Brown admitted as much to me at the time -- they were simply small enterprises that were bulldozed, he said, for "a greater good."

No doubt that greater-good spirit has moved more than a dozen cities to fast-track redevelopment projects before -- if   -- Sacramento acts. Working on Martin Luther King Day even, Fremont officials approved $133 million for a project near a new BART station.

Can Brown move the Legislature to act against this powerful lobby, which has the support of some pro-business Repubs and some big-government Dems?

"I think everyone agrees that at the redevelopment mechanism has been useful and created jobs," Democratic Treasurer Bill Lockyer said. But: "The last I heard, the University of California and California schools create jobs."

The bad news: Brown also told the League of Cities Wednesday, "You may win on redevelopment and then we take something else away."
   

But why?

Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, framed the issue well -- it's a choice between "a subsidy for public and private development" and $1.7 billion for education, public safety and child welfare.

So then you dump the corporate welfare. In a report "Redevelopment: The Unknown Government" Norby wrote that the redevelopment status quo "encourages retail developers to expect public handouts."

Enough. Besides, cities still will have the power to push for smart construction projects -- they just won't have a money pot that makes it look free.

Last question: How can you tell if redevelopment funds bankrolled a building? It's new, big and mostly empty.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentary  

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders .  

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.   Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.