Wednesday, October 26, 2005 | Virtual Candidate Forum
Editor’s note: Voice of San Diego over the last several weeks has asked readers and community members about the issues they are interested in knowing more about when they cast votes Nov. 8 for District 2 and 8 city Council candidates. Voice will be publishing information about citywide and district-specific issues as Election Day nears. Candidates were provided with a chance to respond and state their position on each topic. The candidates’ submissions have been edited for style, grammar and clarity.
Downtown San Diego’s character, appearance and economic productivity are all very different today than they were 30 years ago. Young professionals blow off steam with a night at the Gaslamp clubs, fanny-packed tourists’ heads swivel to take in the ambiance of Seaport Village, and out-of-town businessmen take in a day game at Petco Park before their dinner appointment that night with clients.
Three decades ago, downtown had a different clientele: sailors in port who took to frequenting seedy bars and strip parlors, the downtrodden, and the warehouse operators who enjoyed the proximity of the port, train yards and the nearby enclaves of blue-collar households.
For better or worse, the face of San Diego’s urban core has changed drastically, and the vehicle for that was California redevelopment law. Led by then-Mayor Pete Wilson in 1975, the City Council (which doubles as the city’s redevelopment agency) declared the Marina and Columbia areas of downtown blighted, and created the Centre City Development Corp. to oversee the redevelopment of the area. The downtown project area was expanded in 1992 to include the 1,500 acres that are bordered by the U.S. Navy and port bay-front properties to the west, Laurel Street to the north, Interstate 5 to the east, and Barrio Logan to the south.
A redevelopment agency can unilaterally declare a swath blighted by finding the area to be physically dilapidated or socially and economically futile. Properties within that area may be condemned through the power of eminent domain, which is also used for public works necessities, such as extending a freeway through privately held land. In the case of redevelopment, local governments can force private property owners to sell their land in the name of public benefit.
By declaring the Centre City project area blighted, the city was able to seize properties from their owners after compensating them in order to create projects like Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp corridor and Petco Park.
More than 90 percent of the properties acquired within a redevelopment area are negotiated outside of court, CCDC reports. Others ask a judge to set a fair price that the property owner must accept.
The Supreme Court this year reaffirmed a jurisdiction’s right to use eminent domain for public benefit, although it could be the city’s discretion to not use the redevelopment tool at all.
Critics of the redevelopment process complain that property owners lose their fundamental right to hold their land, thereby losing out on the chance to reap the benefits of the surrounding development. Redevelopment backers say improvements to the area would never happen without the prodding allowed under the state law.
Another controversial point about redevelopment law is using tax-increment as the means to finance a project area. Tax increment is the difference in property tax collected on a parcel before and after it changes hands. For example, a parcel could be worth $100,000 before it is seized by the redevelopment agency, and could be re-assessed at $1 million after it is transferred to a new owner who improved the property. The difference of the taxes collected before and after the transfer is the tax increment.
State law allows the project area to retain the tax increment for its own purposes for the life of the redevelopment project. The revenue from tax increment can only be used to pay for acquiring properties within the redevelopment area and to pay for “brick and mortar” public amenities. Tax increment can help pay for a fire house’s construction, for instance, but cannot be used to staff it with firefighters.
Currently, the county of San Diego is suing the city over the recently created Grantville redevelopment area. The county argues that the city is unfairly capturing the property tax increment by using a false finding of blight to justify shutting out the county from reaping the benefits of rising property values in the project area.
The rest of the city also loses out on the increased property tax revenue from the areas, although backers will say that the new development does contribute to city and county general budgets by the new sales taxes that are generated after redevelopment.
Downtown includes two of 16 project areas citywide. Other redevelopment areas within Districts 2 and 8 include North Bay, Barrio Logan and San Ysidro. The City Council has the discretion to create other redevelopment areas, knowing the positives and negatives of property rights and public benefits that are associated with such actions.
Read candidates’ responses and ideas here.
Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at