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A Better Way than the CRA

GUEST EDITORIAL - California has no need to resurrect a program that was easily abused, largely unaccountable and often incomprehensible.

Instead of reviving a flawed redevelopment process, Legislators should offer a new approach to revitalizing communities: Civic development and renewal projects should rely on local funding, without state subsidies, and should answer to local voters.

The state Supreme Court last week upheld state budget legislation from June that abolished redevelopment. The court, however, nixed a related measure that would have allowed redevelopment agencies to continue operating if they paid the state $1.7 billion this fiscal year. In the wake of that decision, city and redevelopment officials implored the Legislature to restore some form of redevelopment — despite the fact that cities and redevelopment agencies caused the ruling by suing the state in July.

Redevelopment let local governments keep a larger share of property taxes that would otherwise go to schools, counties and other public agencies. The money was supposed to pay for improving run-down areas, but often went toward subsidies to well-connected developers, incentives to attract big retailers and other uses with little connection to urban renewal. About 12 percent of all property taxes statewide flowed annually to redevelopment.

Redevelopment advocates tout the program as a tool to create jobs and provide affordable housing. But reports last year from the state’s legislative analyst and state controller found redevelopment’s job creation claims highly suspect. And the analyst noted that redevelopment housing funds often result in little additional affordable housing.

And simply resurrecting some form of traditional redevelopment would not fix those or other issues that plague the program — such as complex financing that defies public scrutiny. Redevelopment also lacks any real oversight to deter misuse of the money. And California can no longer afford a program that drains billions of tax dollars away from other local government services to fund less vital needs — everything from lobbying to boosting luxury golf resorts. Nor can the deficit-ridden state government afford the roughly $2 billion a year the state has to pay schools to backfill local property taxes diverted to redevelopment.

Yet cities do have a legitimate need for tools to revive deteriorating areas. When officials have used it properly, redevelopment has brought new life to ailing neighborhoods, revitalized aging downtowns and boosted commerce. Those benefits do not justify reviving a badly flawed and Byzantine state program, but do suggest cities need some way to renew older areas and improve aging infrastructure.

But any new revitalization process should be a local responsibility, backed by voters. Gov. Jerry Brown last year proposed that local voter-approved taxes and bonds fund urban renewal efforts, rather than depending on property taxes redirected from other public agencies.

That idea stalled in the Legislature, but the governor’s instinct was right. Relying on voter approval would help ensure that public money covered valid civic needs: Local voters would not likely tax themselves for dubious spending and special-interest subsidies. And such an approach would get the state out of the business of subsidizing local development decisions by backfilling education funding.

California has no need to re-create a faulty program. Revitalizing run-down areas is a local matter — and both authorization and funding should come from local voters.

(The Inland Southern California Press-Enterprise published this editorial first on January 8. More Press-Enterprise news and views at pe.com) -cw

Tags: Community Redevelopment Agency, CRA, California, Governor Brown

Vol 10 Issue 3
Pub: Jan 10, 2012