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The recent rhetoric about eliminating redevelopment to ease the State of California’s budget crisis has both sides digging in their heels. Those who support Governor Brown’s plan to jettison redevelopment agencies say it takes money from education and other public services, is fraught with abuse, and doesn’t improve overall economic development in California. Conversely, redevelopment supporters argue that redevelopment means job creation, economic stimulation and provides local governments the tools to transform blighted communities. But is there a middle ground?
Historically, redevelopment has been a tool for eliminating blight in communities. What if we were to rethink redevelopment as a tool for implementing present day land use and planning trends which favor mixed-use, compact and transit-oriented development to manage future growth of cities and improve overall public health?
The goal of Senate Bill 375 and Assembly Bill 32 is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transforming land use planning through a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). The best way to achieve these goals is to reduce urban sprawl and improve transportation connections by encouraging more infill and compact development and revitalize urban and community centers.
One of challenges local governments face is lack of funding for implementing the SCS. Rather than focusing on eliminating blight as a prerequisite for using redevelopment, it could be retooled and linked to implementation of the SCS. Cities would have to have a specific plan for implementing the SCS in order to qualify for redevelopment funding and sustainable planning grant programs.
Redevelopment is also a tool for local governments to generate affordable housing. California law requires redevelopment agencies to set aside funds for low and moderate income housing. This set-aside generates about $1 billion annually throughout California. Set-aside funds are the second largest source of money for affordable housing, second only to federal affordable housing programs. Affordable housing set-aside money generated within a redevelopment area can only be used to develop affordable housing and may be spent outside a redevelopment project area. This paves the way for development of low and moderate income housing throughout cities.
Although Governor Brown’s proposal would transfer the existing pots of affordable housing set-aside money to local housing authorities, the plan does not provide a replacement source of money once the existing funds are depleted. According to a report released January 18th, 2011 by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Although there are questions about the effectiveness of redevelopment agencies in providing affordable housing, the Governor’s proposal does not provide an ongoing funding source.”
San Diego has 17 redevelopment project areas which have generated enough affordable housing set-aside funds to provide 15,000 units for low and moderate income families throughout the San Diego County.
While there are examples of redevelopment abuse throughout California, there are also examples of communities that have been transformed and revitalized by redevelopment. The Governor and Legislature should focus on reforming redevelopment rather than eliminating it. Reforms should address redevelopment abuse by changing the law to prevent misuse. Redevelopment reform should also incentivize and reward communities for creating and implementing the SCS, developing affordable housing, and stimulating local economies through job creation and innovation.
Robin Munro Madaffer is a land use attorney and law professor and incoming Chair of ULI San Diego.