As a San Diego City Councilmember for 8 years, I saw first hand the role redevelopment can play in changing neighborhoods, economies and lives in places like North Park and City Heights, but the state budget that was recently adopted contained significant cutbacks to redevelopment programs. The recent change in redevelopment funding has been as tough for me to swallow as for anyone, but Californians of all stripes need to understand that drastic times call for drastic measures. The current plan is a balance between the needs of state-funded local programs and the need for redevelopment.
Because there has been a good deal of hot rhetoric flying around on this issue, I would like to separate fact from fiction. Redevelopment was originally created by diverting taxes from cities, counties, and schools and re-investing them into blighted areas. This year, however, the Great Recession came home to roost in a big way and California was $26 billion in the red.
Just like the City of San Diego has had to make tough choices to balance its books, the State of California had to find ways to keep public schools open, protect public safety, and retain some semblance of a safety net of health and social services. Everyone shared the pain in this budget.
Governor Brown proposed to completely eliminate redevelopment agencies in order to recapture those diverted tax dollars. I joined with my colleagues in the legislature to support an alternative voluntary plan that allows redevelopment agencies to continue their work, although, admittedly, with fewer dollars. In the first year, the state will recapture 40% of the diverted tax dollars. After that, redevelopment agencies will be permitted to keep all but 10% of those funds.
And where will that money go? Not to some amorphous entity called “The State,” but right into our schools to keep class sizes manageable and avoid shortening the school year; to our cities, which can use it for services that have been in their budget bullseye; and to the county, for public safety and healthcare. The California League of Cities has sued to block this transfer, so everything is on hold until early next year, adding to the uncertainty for schools and local governments.
Fortunately, California continues to have a dynamic and growing economy that has already started to recover. In the meantime, schools, public safety and healthcare have to be our top priorities.