The city of San Diego is planning to commit “hundreds of millions” toward redevelopment projects by the end of the month in reaction to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment statewide, city officials said Monday.
The move is an effort to put redevelopment dollars out of reach before the state does away with it. We’ve dubbed the approach redevelopment “Mardi Gras” — as other cities around the state have gone on a spending spree before the governor’s axe came down.
“We’re talking big dollars,” said Janice Weinrick, a top redevelopment official.
Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office and redevelopment officials are developing a project list that would touch all areas of the city. Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said four long-standing downtown projects, including a permanent homeless shelter and the first phase of a massive waterfront revitalization effort, would make the cut.
Weinrick said she didn’t know if anything toward two other big downtown projects — an expanded Convention Center or a new Chargers stadium — would be on the list.
It remains uncertain how definitive these redevelopment decisions would be. In a letter to neighborhood redevelopment committee leaders last week, Weinrick said the city is proposing to contract with its Redevelopment Agency and handle these future projects if they are eliminated. It’s the same approach other cities have used, Weinrick added. Committee leaders need to give the city their project wish list by next Tuesday.
The idea is that these projects would be considered complete enough to sidestep redevelopment’s elimination, but also wouldn’t force the city to spend money. Goldstone said he wasn’t sure if the approach would work, but that San Diego didn’t want to be left out should other cities’ agreements be valid.
The redevelopment decision, scheduled for a Feb. 28 City Council meeting, would be the most definitive step the city has taken to combat Brown’s proposal. Earlier, the council passed a resolution opposing redevelopment’s elimination.
But moving so quickly limits the chance for public debate over what could be hundreds of millions in tax dollars. The city already has faced substantial criticism for erasing discussion over the future of downtown redevelopment. Last-minute state legislation passed in October funneled a big share of an estimated $6 billion in future property tax dollars downtown and circumvented a public process designed to determine if those new revenues were justified.
Last week, the city’s downtown redevelopment agency postponed indefinitely public meetings scheduled to make up for the lack of discussion over the law because of uncertainty at the state.
Mayor’s Office spokeswoman Rachel Laing said in an email interview that Sanders has no concerns about the public being left out of redevelopment decisions. The proposed council action, she said, “does not represent a final decision on any project,” but rather would allow the city to make future decisions on proposals assembled as part of prior public discussions.
“It represents a menu of options for future decision-makers,” Laing said.
The city of Los Angeles, which kicked off redevelopment Mardi Gras by attempting to commit nearly $1 billion in future property taxes in mid-January, has yet to finalize its decision. Last week, L.A. officials again postponed taking definitive action reportedly because of concerns about complying with the state’s open meetings laws.
Redevelopment siphons property taxes away from schools, counties, cities and other local governments to improve rundown neighborhoods. Brown is arguing that the state cannot subsidize development at a time when schools and other core government services need money. But redevelopment backers argue that the process allows for job creation, affordable housing and stimulating growth that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
State lawmakers are scheduled to resume hearings on redevelopment this week, Sanders staffer David Graham told a council committee Monday morning. But the governor has yet to release a formal proposal. Graham added that the city expected the governor to release his plan by the end of the month with the state taking action in the first week of March.