The genesis of what Gov. Jerry Brown recently called the redevelopment “funeral” starts with the birth of redevelopment agencies in 1945.
That year the Legislature gave cities and county governments “the authority to form a redevelopment agency with the specific purpose of revitalizing deteriorated or blighted areas of the community,” according to a state bill analysis.
The original purpose of RDAs was mainly to clean up dumps, said William Spath, a lawyer from San Diego who specializes in RDAs, “but over time it morphed into funding different things.”
Code enforcement, affordable housing projects, city staff salaries and even stadiums were funded by RDAs, Spath said.
Some notable achievements of the RDA exist across the state, according to Spath. “I think that downtown San Diego could be a poster child of what RDA can do,” said Spath.
Twenty-five years ago downtown San Diego “was very rundown and blighted,” he said. But RDA funding was a catalyst of its rehabilitation, Spath said.
But not all was positive and criticism arose throughout the years.
The main sources of school revenues are property taxes. And because RDA funding comes from diverted property taxes, Spath said, school funding was negatively affected, leaving the state to make up for the loss.
There is also the idea that RDAs subsidized private businesses through its partnerships.
“But (that’s) a perspective issue,” he said.
There were also abuses like in the city of Bell, “and it’s unfortunate,” said El Centro’s RDA director Marcela Piedra, referring to allegations of RDA misuse of funds by Bell city officials in 2010.
“Any organization, it doesn’t matter what you do, if you have unethical individuals, they are going to take inappropriate actions,” Piedra said.
And there are also cities that may be paying salaries and doing programs that may not be connected with redevelopment, she said. “That’s where some criticism takes place.”
Also, some RDAs like the one in Los Angeles and San Francisco have millions of dollars in their housing funds, Piedra said. Critics said the agencies didn’t spend the money fast enough, she said, “and that has created problems.”
Last summer, while facing a budget crisis of billions of dollars, Gov. Jerry Brown decided to dissolve redevelopment agencies. After a lawsuit the state Supreme Court sided with Brown and now, six months later, some cities are shuffling RDA staff into other departments to prevent layoffs while they get ready to sell RDA assets.
Successor agencies are set to take over Wednesday, said Spath, and in the next 60 to 90 days each county will create an oversight board for the successor agencies.
State Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, and Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, introduced a bill earlier this month that would delay the dissolution by two months. But the bill wasn’t well-received, according to Spath.
City managers are now looking into a bill introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which would allow cities to keep funds already committed to low-income housing.
But whether that bill will pass the governor’s veto power is yet to be seen.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com