Expert Panel Discusses The Future Of Redevelopment In California
Nearly 80 people including government officials, experts and community members gathered at the Public Policy Institute of Santa Monica College’s Bundy Campus Thursday night for a panel discussion about the necessary-- or unnecessary-- purposes of redevelopment.
Initially started in California after World War II, redevelopment allowed cities to improve blighted areas, but Gov. Brown began questioning if the money to support redevelopment would be better served elsewhere.
While Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) have escaped budget cuts the last few years, the California Supreme Court declared that Gov. Brown could legally dissolve the agencies this past January. Following the decision, Gov. Brown issued a statement saying the money saved from redevelopment would guarantee over $1 billion in funding for schools and public safety.
But as the panelists pointed out, it's not that simple.
“RDAs were politically killed because people were told that more money would then be available to schools, but that is false, because it just means that now the state will have to commit less money to schools [to supplement city and county budgets],” said Murray Kane, Senior Principal with the law firm of Kane, Ballmer and Barkman and the first speaker of the night.
Kane added that the state will now just put the money saved into California’s “black hole budget.” To fix that, Kane said state money previously put aside to supplement schools should now be earmarked to ensure that schools receive more, not the same amount of funding.
Redevelopment has had a shaky history in California. Cliff Graves, Senior Economic Development Officer of the city of Carson, said that RDAs have been criticized over the years for spending money on unnecessary, expensive and, in some cases, malevolent projects that have displaced people from their homes, like in San Francisco’s Richmond district.
However, redevelopment agencies have also been credited for job creation and have been credited as the second largest source for affordable housing, said Graves, who has been involved in redevelopment efforts in San Francisco, San Diego and now Carson.
Graves said he has seen great effects come out of redevelopment, citing the revitalization of the gaslamp district in San Diego and Culver Boulevard in Culver City as two positive examples.
During his time as Senior Economic Development officer for Carson, he used the example of a land investment that had negative property value but will be worth something when the project completes. “That is what redevelopment is all about,” Graves said.
In response to the backlash against the dissolution of RDAs, Former State Assembly member and State Senator Sheila Kuehl said that two bills have been introduced in the senate to protect redevelopment efforts. One of those bills was introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) which would allow a city or county to use the $1.36 billion held by redevelopment agencies that are now closing to fund affordable housing. Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) introduced the other bill that will clarify the functions of successor agencies and oversight boards of RDAs. Neither bill would bring back RDAs.
Despite the dissolution of RDAs, all of the speakers indicated that this did not mean an end to initiatives for affordable housing. That was a good thing to hear, especially for Santa Monica resident Jennifer Kennedy who brought her son with her to the event.
“There is a lot up in the air right now…but as one speaker said earlier, where there’s a will there’s a way and I positively believe in that,” Kennedy said, following the discussion.
Reach reporter Jacqueline Mansky here
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