By CJ Dablo
In anticipation of a prolonged fight over state budget proposals that called for an end to redevelopment funding, advocates for redevelopment have been pondering the future.
Gov. Jerry Brown had proposed drastic cuts to the state budget in order to close a deficit totaling more than $25.4 million. Part of his plan called for an immediate end to RDAs in cities all over California by July 1.
California lawmakers last week began to vote on Brown’s budget, which included specific legislation to end redevelopment agencies. At press time, although a redevelopment bill failed to pass last week, lawmakers may reconsider the bill at a later date.
But many Long Beach city officials have voiced opposition to the bills. They have credited their redevelopment agencies for successfully creating public-improvement projects that transformed depressed neighborhoods and blighted areas.
“The stakes could not be higher for Long Beach,” several Long Beach city council members wrote in a recent op-ed letter that was sent to local news outlets. “This vote has the potential to either continue an incredibly effective program designed to assist our most challenged and distressed neighborhoods, or in one fell swoop stop 50 years of success and commit many of our neighborhoods to perpetual and permanent blight.” The letter was signed by Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal and Councilmembers Robert Garcia, Gary DeLong, Dee Andrews, James Johnson, Rae Gabelich, and Steven Neal.
Although Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell did not sign the letter, he does back keeping redevelopment in the city of Long Beach. “I am supportive of redevelopment and of maintaining a tool for economic development,” said O’Donnell in a telephone interview Wednesday. There are potential redevelopment projects in his district, and he even traveled to Sacramento to advocate for redevelopment earlier this year, he said.
No statement was available from the office of Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, who also chose to not sign the op-ed letter written by the other councilmembers.
According to a city report, the RDA had planned to use $89.5 million towards several projects for the next three years. The North Library, the Eastside Police Station and several parks were “at risk,” according to the City.
Other Long Beach city officials have voiced their open support of keeping RDAs despite the governor’s insistence that the cuts are necessary.
“It’s not sweeping change. It’s not sweeping reform,” said John Edmond, chief of staff for Councilmember Dee Andrews, of the governor’s plan in a telephone interview Tuesday. Edmond argued that the cuts to redevelopment won’t solve the state’s budget crisis. He said he hoped the controversy over the future of redevelopment would at least bring people to the table.
“Clearly, we’re hoping that more reasonable minds slow down a little bit,” said Dan Carrigg, Legislative Director and spokesman for the League of California Cities (LCC) in a telephone interview on March 18. The League has warned that they will take the fight to the courts and challenge the constitutionality of the redevelopment bills. The League has also pressed for city officials to support a plan created by the California Redevelopment Association (CRA).
The CRA has proposed a solution to help ease some of the state’s budget problems while still keeping the RDAs operational. Under the plan, cities would be asked to voluntarily contribute portions of their RDA funds to their local schools.
In a press release, the League of California Cities (LCC) has endorsed the plan, explaining that the RDAs would offer anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion to help close the state budget gap for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. In exchange, the RDAs would be allowed to continue to operate. The plan relies on RDAs to voluntary contribute 20 percent of their tax increment revenue stream in the first year and/or up to ten percent of their tax increment revenue stream for 10 years. A higher contribution amount will extend the life of the project area for redevelopment. If RDAs contribute more, they’ll be allowed to exist longer.
Carrigg said the California redevelopment proposal is a feasible way of trying to address the state’s budget problems. He acknowledged that the state has faced multiple budget crises, but if the state legislature passed laws to eliminate redevelopment, Carrigg warned that it would be “a disaster for the state.”
“Overnight elimination for the budget crisis of the hour doesn’t make any sense,” Carrigg said.
It’s unclear which cities will volunteer for the program and if the governor’s office will accept the proposal.
And Edmond also pointed out that Long Beach has to deal with its own budget crisis. The spokesman for Dee Andrews’s district said that city officials are considering local budget cuts to other city programs and services. Redevelopment is one of many areas that will be affected by cuts.
“You think this is bad? Wait and see what’s about to happen,” said Edmond, emphasizing that the residents should be aware of difficult budget decisions that will take effect in October. “This is the canary in the coal mine.”