Facing an unprecedented $25.4 billion state budget deficit, Gov. Jerry Brown was expected to deliver a draconian budget. He did not disappoint. But of the many facets of his budget that deserve vigorous scrutiny, his proposed elimination of redevelopment may be the most troubling.
After extensively using redevelopment to rejuvenate Oakland’s Fox Theatre, its downtown and its waterfront, former Oakland Mayor Brown now wants to preclude local governments from ever using that tool again.
With 40 percent of the members in the state Legislature coming from local government, redevelopment should have some strong defenders in Sacramento. Unfortunately, not so. It is amazing how quickly so many of them forget where they came from when they get to Sacramento. But we can’t let them forget how important redevelopment is to our local and state economy and to improving the livability of our communities.
Of the 425 redevelopment agencies in California, five of them are here in San Luis Obispo County. The cities of Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Atascadero and Arroyo Grande have all successfully used redevelopment to revitalize their communities.
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Whether it is the thriving downtown of Paso Robles, Atascadero’s Sunken Gardens or an affordable housing project in Arroyo Grande, none could have happened without redevelopment funding. Eliminating our most powerful tool to enhance our communities is a slap in the face to local government. Eliminating redevelopment will:
Kill jobs. With California’s unemployment rate exceeding 12 percent, the last thing we need is to get rid of the jobs we have. The California Redevelopment Association said that more than 304,000 jobs provided by redevelopment on an annual basis would be lost if Brown gets his way.
Jeopardize affordable housing. Redevelopment funding is the second-largest producer of affordable housing in California next to the federal government. Leaders of such local affordable housing nonprofits such as People’s Self-Help Housing and Habitat for Humanity say the loss of redevelopment will halt many pending affordable housing projects in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Be unconstitutional. Redevelopment is protected under our state Constitution. Why would the state consider going against its Constitution to eliminate an activity that produces $40 billion annually for just a one-time savings of $1.7 billion?
Repudiate the voters’ will. Proposition 22, which was placed on last November’s ballot to protect redevelopment funding, passed overwhelmingly with 61 percent of the vote. By eliminating redevelopment, Brown is ignoring what the voters said just three short months ago.
Stifle investment in our communities. When Brown ran for governor, he pledged to “move government down to the local level where it is closest to the people.” Little did we know that he really meant to take away local government’s most powerful economic development tool. As a result, our infrastructure, our downtowns and the livability of our communities will suffer.
Remove the best tool for implementing SB375. After passing this landmark legislation to deal with global warming and providing no local funding to implement it, the state Legislature should be doing everything to save redevelopment as the tool local government has to foster city-centered growth and mixed-use urban infill development.
As a principal of a 70-person local design firm that specializes in revitalizing California’s communities, about 30 percent of our projects have involved redevelopment funding. Whether it is revitalizing downtown Atascadero, a police and fire headquarters in Paso Robles or streetscape improvements in Grover Beach, we have had a front row seat to witness how redevelopment has helped the communities we have served. Losing redevelopment would have a devastating effect on the economy and livability of our communities.
Saving redevelopment has a steep hill to climb. The state’s public employee unions, the most powerful force in Sacramento, are bringing all of their resources to bear on the people they helped elect. Most notably, Brown and State Controller John Chiang, who is now on a witch hunt to audit 18 redevelopment agencies around the state. (What a surprise that Brown’s Oakland and Gavin Newsom’s San Francisco weren’t on the audit list!)
The next two weeks will be critical to the survival of redevelopment in California. We need all the support we can get and to let our elected officials in Sacramento, San Luis Obispo County and our cities know that the state needs to keep its hands off redevelopment like we told them last November. Please write the governor and your state legislators to let them know how you feel as soon as you can. After all, our local communities depend on it.
T. Keith Gurnee is a former San Luis Obispo City Council member, a principal of RRM Design Group and a member of the California Redevelopment Association.