Tuesday, May 09, 2006 | Redevelopment has literally changed the way that San Diego looks – and nearly always for the better.

My seven years on the San Diego City Council convinced me that redevelopment is a powerful way to attract and retain private investment in our communities. But chairing the Senate Local Government Committee has taught me that not every redevelopment program works as well as it has in San Diego. That is why California needs statewide redevelopment reforms.

In downtown San Diego, our Centre City Development Corp. leveraged public money and delivered spectacular results. The Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy and Petco Park are the most obvious examples of redevelopment’s significant successes.

The City Heights Urban Village is another great example of how redevelopment programs can use private real estate investors to meet community needs. That neighborhood was struggling – crime was up, business vacancies were increasing, and many long-time residents wanted out. Today, City Heights boasts a strong shopping district, better housing, a new city library, a police substation and a swim and tennis center. Community pride is soaring.

Unfortunately, redevelopment is not cheap. Just providing the state’s share of redevelopment costs state taxpayers $1.7 billion a year. The 760 redevelopment project areas in California take over $3.4 billion in property tax revenues away from our schools, counties, cities and special districts. Because the state Constitution requires us to provide equal funding for schools, the state must replace every dollar that schools lose to redevelopment projects. With such a financial commitment, legislators want redevelopment to succeed.

Hearings we held last year convinced me that the redevelopment laws need reform. We learned about documented abuses in California City, Diamond Bar, Lake Forest, Mammoth Lakes, and Upland. Left unchecked, the perceptions of favoritism, cutting corners, indifference and arrogance that were generated by some of these projects will only serve to undermine our legitimate goal of eliminating blight.

Legislators are not tone-deaf. When our constituents tell us their concerns, we listen. When a good state law is abused, it becomes our responsibility to protect the good redevelopment projects while we get rid of the bad ones.

That is why I responded to those statewide problems by introducing three reform bills:

– Senate Bill 53 limits how redevelopment officials can use eminent domain by requiring redevelopment officials to spell out how, when, and where they will use eminent domain;

– Senate Bill 1206 reforms redevelopment practices by tightening the statutory definition of “blight,” by making it easier to challenge bad redevelopment decisions, and by increasing the state’s oversight of redevelopment activities; and finally

– Senate Bill 1650 which makes it harder for a public agency to condemn private property for one purpose and then turn around and use it for something else.

Some say that there is no need to reform redevelopment because the current law works. That ignores political reality. My bills are careful responses to our constituents’ real concerns. Doing nothing is not an option.

State Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, represents the 39th District, which stretches from Del Mar to La Presa, and from Ocean Beach to Tierrasanta. Sen. Kehoe chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government which has jurisdiction over redevelopment bills. You can contact her at (619) 645-3133 or by email at

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