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Monday, Feb. 23, 2009 | Finally! It appears that common sense and fiscal responsibility and accountability are coming to at least one part of City Hall operations: redevelopment. Voiceofsandiego.org is reporting that Mayor Jerry Sanders is finally considering the abolishment of Southeastern Economic Development Corporation and Centre City Development Corporation and folding their operations into the existing Redevelopment Agency. In light of the recent scandals, ethical failures and allegations of unlawful behavior at these agencies, reform should have come months ago. But at least reform is now under consideration.
At the most basic operational level, I and many others have long argued that the unique, quasi-independent, “corporate” structure of SEDC and CCDC has led to both inefficiencies and lack of accountability and transparency to taxpayers and city officials. No other city in California — none — operates its redevelopment functions in the way San Diego chose to do with the establishment of these two autonomous agencies. Many of us believe that the city’s multimillion dollar funding of SEDC and CCDC, every year, when there is already a city Redevelopment Agency, is a grossly inefficient use of very precious tax dollars, and especially now, in challenging economic times. We simply can no longer afford the extravagance of separate redevelopment entities.
The other critical consideration is the essential lack of accountability and transparency at SEDC and CCDC, both of which have been plagued by a series of scandals and criminal allegations in the past year. I agree that the City Council and the mayor’s office failed in their respective oversight duties over SEDC and CCDC. But the management structure and operational intricacies at the two “distant” agencies still allowed the former presidents, Carolyn Smith and Nancy Graham to engage in allegedly fraudulent or illegal acts that fell under the radar of city officials. Sadly, neither agency has fully undertaken or implemented the reforms that have been called for, meaning further malfeasance can occur at SEDC and CCDC.
Finally, as it relates to CCDC in particular, I would argue that its mission is substantially complete, and that there is no longer any justification for allowing the agency to continue to hoard its protected tax increment dollars. In these tough economic times, when the city is scratching to find every dollar it can to fund all operations and pay salaries, it makes no fiscal sense to allow CCDC to continue to jealously hold onto a pot of cash that numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Imagine the infrastructure and other repairs and improvements that could be completed across the entire city if this CCDC money were freed up.
The times have changed since the original inception of SEDC and CCDC. It’s now time to abolish these two agencies and return their operations to the city, where they rightly belong.