We hear a lot about redevelopment agencies being shut down, and that seems to be the scapegoat for many budget shortfalls. I often wonder if redevelopment agencies were so successful and not a drain on our city’s general fund, why would ending them cause such a disastrous impact on our city? One can conclude that redevelopment agencies are/were not the financial boon they proclaimed.
There are some valid purposes for municipal government ownership: rights of way for roads, some parks, perhaps schools and libraries. Public ownership to build an office building, shopping mall, or “preferred” housing are not valid purposes.
When property is in private hands, it is an asset to the community; not only does it provide value to the community via market forces (it can provide goods – including housing – and services demanded by the community) but also provides revenue to local governments in the form of property and sales taxes. When private property is claimed for public use or benefit, an asset that provided resources to the public is instantaneously converted to a public liability that consumes resources in the acquisition, debt servicing, liability, and compliance aspects of these properties.
Our city is pock-marked with empty lots and underutilized properties. With the real estate boom 10 years ago (and the current “recovery”), I am always surprised to see empty lots smack dab in the middle of an established neighborhood or business district.
Unfortunately, many of these properties are scar tissue from floundered redevelopment projects. Many parcels were acquired with good intentions or pipe dreams in mind, only to remain fallow to this day. Redevelopment may have been abruptly unplugged, but that does not excuse the poor business justification of so many of their acquisitions.
For example, we used to have a bowling alley and a truck stop. As worn down as they may have been, they provided some value to the community, and created some revenue to local governments. Now, due to questionable government initiatives, we have two scruffy, barren lots that provide no value to our community; yet we have to pay for the upkeep. Those who question how much liability an unkempt public property can expose our community to need only look at the lawsuits stemming from last year’s Marigold Fire.
Another example: Fairfield’s agency spent $750,000 around six years ago on two houses in the downtown area (across the street from the community theater. Further money was spent on relocating the residents and tearing down the structures. Wonderful plans that were going to improve the area both aesthetically and financially were used to justify the purchase. Due to redevelopment district liquidation requirements, the properties were sold this year for $150,000. Those doing quick math realize that we, the taxpayers, lost $600,000 on the deal, or 80 percent of the “investment.”
“Are the agencies and personnel involved in this failed business deal being held responsible and accountable?”
If you think this is in the past and it is time to move on should think twice . . . the second coming of redevelopment districts is on its way. Senate Bill 1 is making its way through the halls of Sacramento having the same framework as the first version of redevelopment, but one noteworthy “feature” is that the agency would not need to get voter approval to sell bonds to pay for their projects.
A common question I hear is "Without RDAs, how do you suggest communities deal with blighted areas?" I do not feel that that government has a role in cleaning up "blight". "Blight" is a subjective term that can easily be twisted to suit assorted agendas.
We the people should always ask two questions when our government starts a new program or project:
• Should the government be doing it?
• Have they demonstrated competency to efficiently complete the project?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then I would not support the government getting involved.
“Market forces and voluntary agreements should determine the "best" use of property, not centralized planning.”