Redevelopment agencies need reform, not elimination

Tossing out redevelopment agencies may make short-term sense to help balance the state budget, but we believe it’s a long-term mistake to abandon a program that has been an economic driver for cities.

We strongly urge both parties in the Legislature to work on resurrecting redevelopment in some form.

As we’ve said before, re-development projects create jobs and generate tax revenue. In San Luis Obispo County, redevelopment agencies have financed or assisted a slew of improvements: Colony Square/Galaxy Theatre in Atascadero; more than 250 affordable housing units in Paso Robles; a 108-unit affordable rental housing unit for seniors in Arroyo Grande; a major upgrade of West Grand Avenue in Grover Beach; freeway improvements in Pismo Beach; loans to small businesses and low-income households in several communities.

It’s also true that there have been some outrageous abuses of the program in some areas of the state. One particularly high on the disgust meter: Redevelopment dollars were used to renovate greens and bunkers at a 41⁄2-star golf resort in Palm Desert.

It’s also true that redevelopment agencies divert some property tax dollars that would otherwise go to school districts. While that’s not so much of an issue when the state is doing well, it’s been a major concern in this down economy.

We believe, however, that the fundamental principle behind redevelopment is sound.

No one benefits when areas that may have once been thriving business districts become run down, crime-ridden and essentially abandoned. Redevelopment is a tool that has allowed cities to invest in these “blighted” neighborhoods and turn them around.

Unfortunately, some communities took advantage of the process, finding “blight” where it didn’t exist.

After Gov. Jerry Brown threatened to pull the plug on redevelopment last year, reforms were proposed, including one that would have tightened the definition of blight.

But some cities stubbornly refused to compromise, and that led to a showdown in court.

The recent state Supreme Court’s decision to uphold abolishment of redevelopment should finally serve as a wakeup call to cities that the program needs major reform.

It should not, however, be the death knell for redevelopment.

State Sen. Alex Padilla is introducing legislation that would extend the “life” of redevelopment agencies past Feb. 1, when they are due to shut down. That would give the Legislature some breathing room to work on long-overdue reform and develop a second-generation program.

Ultimately, we believe California will get back on its economic feet. Redevelopment — used wisely — can be a tool to help it get there.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.