Monday, June 9, 2008 | The County Grand Jury’s review of Centre City Development Corp. brings up several good points, in particular, those addressing the slowness of accounting and reporting by CCDC.
I believe the report loses a little of its impact and focus when it develops an apparent obsession with semantics — calling for a change from referring, in newspapers and corporate publications, to CCDC as “the city’s downtown redevelopment arm” and instead suggesting it now be referred to it as “the City Redevelopment Agency downtown redevelopment project manager.”
This is trivial.
The major concern with the report is its apparent lack of understanding or even interest in how and why CCDC was established in the form it was.
In the early 70s, it was clear that the city’s downtown was suffering from urban flight as business left downtown and blight and crime took their place.
A study was done on how other cities were addressing similar problems and it was found that several different forms of government involvement were being used with various degrees of success. One city with tremendous challenges, which seemed to be making the most headway, was Baltimore. A visit to that city by San Diego civic and elected leaders led to a consensus that their way would be the best for San Diego.
Baltimore had chosen to place their downtown redevelopment operations under a separate corporation reporting to the City Council rather than as a city department. The reason was to develop confidence in the private sector, whose financial commitment would be a required part of a successful undertaking. It was felt that private firms were reluctant to deal in a bureaucratic environment and would be more comfortable dealing with a corporation headed by private-sector business people, who would not be under the binding and time-consuming restraints that dealing with municipalities often involved.
Clearly the “proof is in the pudding,” as grandmother remarked. That is, downtown redevelopment has been successful in accomplishing the goals laid out for it three decades ago.
But as we move forward, there are benefits in refocusing on the operation of CCDC.
As a former chairman, appointed on six different occasions by six different City Councils and four different mayors, I can see where the CCDC has lost some of its proficiency and directions.
The delayed reports and audits are unacceptable. The failure to address the “city loans” and when they will be repaid and from where the funds will come and what effect early repayment would have on future opportunities is troubling and controversial. It requires immediate attention.
CCDC also seems rudderless.
In the past the city manager was the organizational head of the Redevelopment Agency.
With the strong mayor form of government this seems to have shifted to the mayor, who has seemed a reluctant leader. The mayor needs to take a hands-on leadership role.
The first step should be, as mayors of the past have done, the selection of a CCDC chairperson in whom he has confidence.
The most productive years of CCDC occurred when the mayor and the chairperson had a strong relationship. The worst years were when this relationship did not exist.
The mayor should stop the rotating chairperson position. The corporation needs to speak with one voice, not an ever-changing voice.
Remember, we are asking private firms to invest tens of millions of dollars in our city. They need and deserve to know the rules will be the same when they start as when they are underway with their projects.
Finally, the CCDC needs to change its focus back to what is best for the city.
CCDC has been successful both in removing blight and producing a strong stream of revenues. While there are restrictions on the use of these revenues, they can still be used for the betterment of the city — the repayment of the city’s ballpark bonds, by CCDC, being just one example. CCDC needs also to return to longer-term projects. This rush to becoming a boutique design operation, under the leadership of the new, out-of-state, president does not serve the city well.
And salaries at CCDC, starting with the new president, need immediate attention; they are far above what is justified for those working in the public sector.
It is important for those that cry “Break up CCDC” that they realize that 80+% of CCDC revenues are property taxes that in non-redevelopment districts belong to the state, not the city. Dissolve CCDC and this $80 million dollars a year returns quickly to Sacramento.
Let’s refocus the goose that is now laying the golden eggs, not kill it.
Peter Q. Davis, a former banker, served as chairman of the Centre City Development Corp.