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The final score is in, and it’s not good news for those who want to keep government-supported redevelopment alive.
Just four of San Diego County’s 12 state legislators say they’ll fight to protect redevelopment. A bipartisan duo says they’ll back killing redevelopment. Six others from both political parties are undecided or won’t say how they’ll vote, although a couple seem to be leaning for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to do away with it.
Local legislators make up a fairly small chunk of the state Assembly and Senate, meaning they might not be deciding factors in Sacramento when they cast votes on Brown’s proposal.
Still, their responses to our survey reveal how redevelopment’s future is hardly on solid ground, even among San Diego-area legislators who formerly served as city council members and eagerly supported local urban renewal projects.
Also, most of the legislators last fall supported San Diego’s secret, last-minute bid to circumvent a public process and allow downtown’s redevelopment agency to tap into billions of dollars in taxpayer money without needing to prove the area is still in poor shape.
Under redevelopment, local governments sequester tax money from the county, schools and their own day-to-day budget in order to subsidize development, public works projects and build affordable housing in rundown neighborhoods.
Brown is looking to help plug the state’s budget hole by discontinuing redevelopment statewide, saying it’s a system that’s been abused and is costly to schools.
I began sending questionnaires to legislators last week. Here are the latest responses, which all came in the form of written statements.
• Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, a Democrat who represents parts of San Diego, didn’t say she’s pro, con or undecided. Instead, she sent this: “We all know that this is going to be a tough year with tough choices on cuts to programs across the board. It’s my hope that we will find a way to at least ensure affordable housing resources are available.”
• Assemblyman Brian Jones, a Republican who represents parts of East County and a former Santee councilman, says he’ll stand by redevelopment and won’t back the governor. Jones said redevelopment agencies should decide how to spend their money: “Having Sacramento make local government decisions of this nature is wrong-headed.”
• Assemblyman Martin Garrick, a Republican who represents a big chunk of North County, supports redevelopment and will oppose the governor’s plan. “Redevelopment agencies have played a vital role in revitalizing areas up and down the state,” Garrick said, adding that he supports eliminating “onerous” regulations and reducing taxes instead.
However, he echoed other local Republican legislators by expressing concern that redevelopment agencies could violate property rights.
• Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, a Republican who represents a small part of upper North County, said he’ll also stand by redevelopment and reject the governor’s proposal.
“Eliminating RDAs will not fix our state budget and will not help reform our excessive and punishing regulatory environment that has been chasing businesses and jobs out of our state,” he said, using an abbreviation for redevelopment agencies. “I would instead like to see RDA reforms that better protect private property rights, promotes private sector job creation in local communities, stops questionable subsidies, and to require that a portion of the local RDA revenues be spent on funding local public safety and local schools.”
I asked the legislators this question: “What sorts of projects (such as commercial development, football stadiums, affordable housing) do you think redevelopment funds should be spent on?” Jeffries provided an extensive answer, saying redevelopment agencies should fund specific types of projects: “Local infrastructure (streets, cubs/gutters, sidewalks, flood control, parks, etc.) and minor financial assistance to small business owners to upgrade or expand properties for job creation, and/or comply with regulation compliance.”
• Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a Republican who represents parts of San Diego and North County, didn’t respond to questions sent to his spokeswoman. Last year, he was a prime mover behind the controversial legislative bill that allowed the downtown San Diego redevelopment agency to continue commandeering a chunk of taxpayer money that would otherwise go to local governments and schools.
State Sen. Joel Anderson, then an assemblyman, was the only member of the local contingent to vote no on the bill; Jones didn’t vote. (Current Assembly Members Ben Hueso and Toni Atkins and state Sen. Juan Vargas weren’t in office yet and didn’t vote.)
On Monday, I compiled other responses to our survey of legislators. State Sens. Christine Kehoe (a Democrat) and Mark Wyland (a Republican) previously said they support the governor’s plans regarding redevelopment funding. Diane Harkey, a Republican, says she’ll oppose Brown and stand by the funding.
Anderson (Republican) and Vargas (Democratic) are undecided, although Vargas indicated he’s willing to kill redevelopment to preserve assistance for needy Californians. Democratic Assemblymen Hueso and Marty Block said they were undecided, although Block is leaning in favor of the governor’s plan.