Calif. legislators reluctant to end redevelopment
By Dan Walters
Redevelopment in California is dead after more than six decades as a multibillion-dollar government economic development tool.
Or is it?
As the decree to kill redevelopment takes effect, the Capitol is buzzing with efforts to bring it ― or something like it, or some substitute ― back.
Gov. Jerry Brown nixed redevelopment advocates' efforts to delay its execution by 10 weeks, supposedly to give the 400-plus local agencies more time to make an orderly shutdown, but in reality to keep it alive in hopes of a reprieve.
"I don't think we can delay this funeral," Brown said, making it clear that he would veto any extension bill.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who had voted for redevelopment's death sentence last year, popped up with Senate Bill 654 to let cities retain the low-income housing funds that redevelopment agencies had amassed, rather than having them distributed to schools and other local governments.
If enacted, it would hold back $1.4 billion, eating into money that Brown wants from redevelopment's demise by shifting their funds to school districts.
Early this month, on the last day of redevelopment's legal life, Steinberg was unable to move the bill through the Senate as an urgency measure, which would have required a two-thirds vote.
He said he may reconstitute it as a budget "trailer bill," which requires only a simple majority vote. Even had the bill passed, however, its fate at Brown's hands was uncertain.
Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, meanwhile, has introduced his own redevelopment modification measure.
The bigger question mark is whether Brown and the legislators will create some substitute for the money that redevelopment agencies have lavishly spent to underwrite commercial development, such as hotels, auto malls and restaurants.
Brown has indicated he would look favorably on expanding cities' power to finance infrastructure improvements, but not the direct subsidies to private developers that had become targets of criticism.
One approach under study is to loosen the rules governing "infrastructure financing districts," which can issue bonds and repay them from increases in property taxes in project areas. That's similar to redevelopment, but the districts are more limited in scope and, under current law, require approval of two-thirds of local voters.
Two pending bills, including one to underwrite the upcoming America's Cup boat races in San Francisco, would eliminate the voter approval requirement, but Brown is unlikely to go there.
Backers of the concept are hoping, however, that he might accept lowering the voter threshold to 55 percent, similar to that for school bonds, or even to a simple majority.
Politicians are trying to redevelop redevelopment, so to speak.
Dan Walters is a columnist for Sacramento Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For back columns, visit www.sacbee.com/walters.