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It’s been a little over a month since Gov. Jerry Brown fell one vote short of ending redevelopment statewide. The Legislature appears to have moved on at least for now, no doubt pleasing cities around the state that pulled out every stop to dodge redevelopment’s potential demise.
In San Diego, that shifts focus from $4 billion spending plans back to the fate of the city’s own agency, which has long eluded comprehensive restructuring.
“It’s like a washing machine stuck in the agitate cycle,” said City Councilwoman Marti Emerald in an email interview. “We need to get to rinse and spin.”
This week, Emerald released a plan that would dramatically reshape how the city does redevelopment, essentially outsourcing most day-to-day activity to the city’s downtown agency.
Her proposal would eliminate the primary city redevelopment agency and the one that manages redevelopment in the city’s southeastern neighborhoods. In their place, Emerald would expand the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp., to cover all redevelopment citywide. Emerald would rename CCDC the San Diego Development Corp. and it would remain city-sponsored nonprofit with its own board. The City Council would retain its oversight and continue to vote on major issues.
The mayor, whose redevelopment role is in constant limbo, would become an ex officio board member, and get to name the new development corporation’s executive director.
Also the city would spend much more on affordable housing — 35 percent of its revenues instead of the state-mandated 20 percent — and turn the money over to the its Housing Commission.
Why does this all matter? Redevelopment siphons off property taxes that otherwise would go to schools, counties and cities’ day-to-day budgets to improve rundown or blighted neighborhoods. Redevelopment, and CCDC in particular, is credited with helping to transform downtown over the past 30 years, but the system has also been central to some of San Diego’s most recent scandals. Additionally, it’s how the city is able to pay for big buildings while facing budget deficits year after year.
Emerald’s proposal is sure to face pushback. A drastic expansion in affordable housing would leave less money for other redevelopment efforts. She said her housing proposal is a “starting point,” but that money could be better spent than it has been.
“Let’s look at actually redeveloping blighted land with buildings that create permanent jobs,” she said.
Also, expanding CCDC to cover the entire city undercuts one of the more consistent arguments for its effectiveness: that it’s targeted to downtown. Emerald, who has been especially critical of CCDC in recent months, said the agency has dealt with change before.
“CCDC’s activities have evolved as downtown has been redeveloped,” she said. “They did not start out worrying about dog parks and quiet zones; they evolved and took on new, before unknown tasks.”
Emerald will present her plan at a council committee hearing on Monday. Read the full proposal here.