It’s unfortunate that the battle in Sacramento over redevelopment has turned into an all-or-nothing proposition. Supporters demand that it be left alone — and vow to sue if it isn’t — while at the other extreme, Gov. Jerry Brown threatens to phase it out altogether.
We have problems with those positions, and we urge both sides to find a middle ground.
One the one hand, we find the governor’s slash-and-burn approach to redevelopment alarmingly shortsighted. Redevelopment projects create jobs and generate tax revenue — and that’s key to the state’s economic recovery, as well as to its long-term fiscal health.
In San Luis Obispo County alone, redevelopment agencies have financed millions of dollars in road projects, parking and other infrastructure improvements; generated funds for affordable housing; helped small businesses; and greatly improved the overall appearance of local downtowns.
Granted, it can take time to see big financial payoffs.
Unless redevelopment funds are directed toward a major commercial development — Santa Maria’s downtown mall is a classic example — it’s unlikely to generate huge, overnight increases in taxes.
But that’s no reason to abandon a decades-old program to solve a fiscal crisis.
That said, given the magnitude of the state’s shortfall — $26 billion and counting — this is not the time for cities to stubbornly insist that every redevelopment cent is sacred. Some compromises have been suggested — including one that would temporarily divert more funds to schools in exchange for extending the life of redevelopment agencies — and we strongly urge city officials to consider those.
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that redevelopment is in need of increased oversight and reform.
That was underscored by last week’s release of an audit of 18 redevelopment agencies, conducted by the state controller’s office. Among its findings:
In Coronado, the redevelopment area included every private parcel in the city, including multimillion-dollar beachfront homes.
In Palm Desert, redevelopment dollars were used to renovate greens and bunkers at a 41⁄2-star golf resort.
Not one of the 18 agencies audited (none was in San Luis Obispo County) met all their filing requirements.
Five of the agencies failed to make required payments to schools within their areas.
Supporters of redevelopment charged that the controller “cherry picked” the worst possible cases.
That may be, but that’s no excuse to ignore the controller’s findings. Redevelopment is intended to be a tool to improve blighted areas, and characterizing neighborhoods of million-dollar homes as skid rows is outrageous and must stop.
Used correctly, redevelopment has revitalized crumbling downtowns; transformed dangerously rundown housing into affordable, livable units; rescued small businesses in danger of going under; and generated jobs.
We believe it’s a program worth saving; we call on legislative leaders, the governor and city officials to develop a plan to do that.
Redevelopment efforts around the county
Five of the seven cities in San Luis Obispo County — Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Grover Beach, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach — have redevelopment agencies. Here are some of the major projects that redevelopment has funded or assisted in those communities:
Acquisition of property at South Courtland Street and East Grand Avenue for 36 units of affordable rentals.
Removal of a blighted retention basin on Grand Avenue, where Applebee’s restaurant is located.
108-unit senior affordable rental project on East Grand Avenue.
Acquisition of property on Highway 101 for hotel development.
Design work for new police station.
Facade improvement grants for small businesses.
Downtown historic structure survey.
Lewis Avenue Bridge.
Sunken Gardens enhancement project.
Creek bank stabilization.
Colony Square/Galaxy Theatre (loan guarantee).
Zoo entrance and bathrooms.
Parking projects (parking study; parking lot behind Carlton; parking lot expansion at City Hall).
Downtown streetscape improvements.
Colony Park Community Center.
Purchase and renovation of Creekside Building (former bowling alley) used for city offices.
Meadow Creek Bridge repair.
West Grand Avenue enhancement.
Grover Beach municipal network (will connect the trans-Pacific fiber optic cable stretching from Japan to Grover Beach).
Affordable housing, including $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity project that produced four single-family homes.
Storm drain at Park Cinemas (Project facilitated development of a nine-screen movie theater).
City Park improvements.
No interest loans for renovation of facades on historic downtown buildings.
Repair of earthquake damage to Carnegie Library and library parking lot.
Purchase of property used as interim City Hall during construction of new Library/City Hall.
Preparation of a specific plan for the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
180 affordable housing units; an additional 81 are under construction.
Realignment of Fourth Street, improvements to related Highway 101 bridge and relocation of on- and off-ramps.
127 home improvement grants to very low- and low-income households.
Purchase of property at 360 Park Ave. for 14-unit apartment complex for very low- and low-income families.