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Local Leaders Rally To Keep Redevelopment Funds

Audio

Aired 2/25/11

Mayor Jerry Sanders and other local officials released a $4 billion wish list this week for redevelopment projects for San Diego. City leaders are hoping to secure funding for the projects in case Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate local redevelopment agencies is approved. We discuss why local politicians are fighting to keep the redevelopment funds, and how the city could be impacted if the agencies are eliminated.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and other local officials released a $4 billion wish list this week for redevelopment projects for San Diego. City leaders are hoping to secure funding for the projects in case Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate local redevelopment agencies is approved. We discuss why local politicians are fighting to keep the redevelopment funds, and how the city could be impacted if the agencies are eliminated.

Guests

Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times

John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint

Michael Smolens, government editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: Moving on to another governor, our current governor, Jerry Brown, one of his main ideas to find more money for school and local government services is to wipe out redevelopment funding, and that's cased an outcry from cities who have been using those tax dollars for their big development project, and they want to save that pot of money at all costs. So the latest move is that ten of California's largest cities including San Diego and LA have come up with compromise plan. Tony can you give us a bit of a sense of what this compromise plan might do?

PERRY: Yeah, it would keep some of the money Burk not all of the money, basically. It is a compromise that would help the larger cities, I think, at the expense of the smaller cities. It would also tighten the rules, like any government program where the check arrives from Washington or Sacramento, people have found ways to spend it that weren't envisioned initially, and there's been all sorts of issues of using this money that is supposed to be for development in blighted areas or enterprise zones for regular salaries or sweet heart deals with developers, with very little over sight. A lot of places use this money as their budget closer. It's the way they close their gap. And there's also been the issue that a lot of this money is meant to be used for housing and a whole lot of cities that have taken this money [CHECK AUDIO] at all. So nobody's hands are clean in this. Jerry Brown, when he was mayor of Oakland, part of his salary was paid for by redevelopment funds in, one might argue, a violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the law. He also used it for all sorts of things that were outside of the strict definition. A good example -- this is a good example that there are no good solutions to our budget woes, $26 billion deficit of the state, there's just a series of bad ideas that is gonna gore somebody's ox. And San Diego's ox has been feeding off of redevelopment for a long time. I remember downtown in the '70s, it looked like Berlin 1945. Downtown today is what it is because of redevelopment, and the ability to capture the taxation and recycle it back into the area. Is it time now to say enough for that? Get you off the dole, send the money to Sacramento, let them parcel it out to cities and counties. That's what the debate's been about. And I don't think Jerry -- even Jerry thought that by sending out this blunder bust some weeks ago that he was gonna get it all. I think this was a negotiating tactic, and we're gonna end up in a compromise. He's already changed the element to, redevelopment areas have problems, and they've played fast and loose with the money over the years. So that's already kind of a given. So he's already won a partial victory. He's changed the terms of the debate. He'll get some of what he wants.

ST. JOHN: Michael?

SMOLLENS: Well, one thing I think the governor -- I think Tony's right, that's there's gonna be a compromise that he kind of went sort of the nuclear option, and he will be glad to come to some sort of compromise. I don't know if it'll be borrowing the money or getting the money --

ST. JOHN: What's your understanding about this counter proposal.

SMOLLENS: Well, here's the thing where I think the governor's been shrewd. People do not understand what redevelopment is. So when he says redevelopment or schools [CHECK AUDIO] you know, that's a pretty good place to be for the governor, in trying to make his case. He also hasn't been really demonizing redevelopment, he's been kind of cautious he benefited by it.

ST. JOHN: Yeah, he said I was glad I was the mayor before.

SMOLLENS: I think he's handled that well. And another thing keying off something Tony said, whose ox is gonna get gored, people sort of -- you know, subsidies for Medi-Cal, subsidies for this and that, oh, my God they're gonna take the subsidies for my favorite program, that's sort of what's happening here. So I think in a sporting sense, some people are taking a delight that the big, powerful, be downtown establishments in California suddenly are up in arms like we see people trying to defend the poor and the infirm.

PERRY: And in terms of sporting, unless this compromise works out a certain way, you can kiss off the idea of a downtown Chargers stadium to keep the team from movingly of you can also say that the Portland Beavers of the Triple A league are not gonna move to Escondido, because in Escondido and San Diego, the idea of building those stadii was dependent on redevelopment funds so --

ST. JOHN: It's much more glamorous to talk about losing those than it is to talk about losing services for in-home care for example or childcare. John, you're nodding.

WARREN: Yes, and I really want to make that point, when we look at the governor trying to take redevelopment money, the masses in the state will not be as concerned about redevelopment. You're looking at the in-home care being cut by $700 million -- I mean five hundred million and losing another seven in terms of federal contributions, the redevelopment part that the people will gravitate toward is that rem that says 1.5 billion of the redevelopment plan will bring some additional low income housing. Now, people will be concerned about housing. But we're not concerned about the convention center, and the Chargers, and how many more high rises downtown?

PERRY: But shouldn't we be interested? Aren't those investments that rebate back in taxes and sales tack and you will all the rest of it.

WARREN: Yeah.

PERRY: Where in-home --

WARREN: If you have transportation, and housing, and money for the symphony, yes. If you're living on the street, and you don't know how you're gonna get a bus pass, and you don't know how you're gonna buy food or pay a bill, no.

ST. JOHN: Alex is on the phone from Rancho Bernardo. Alex, [CHECK AUDIO].

NEW SPEAKER: I think the invest in teacher, that's a bigger pay off than at firefighters and the police. That's a bigger investment than the public safety, and [CHECK AUDIO] building a stadium for some private guy who doesn't even live in San Diego, I sort of feel offended. But the fact remembered is, these people just realize have serious problem of budget we have, we don't have a budget to provide public safety, yet they want to building new stadiums, and before you say some of this money goes for the homes, building the homeless buildings, look what they built in San Diego. [CHECK AUDIO] that the buildings couldn't sell, and you're basically paying for those buildings, and they call it low housing [CHECK AUDIO] so they're twisting the words, and you know, relocating these points, it's just shameful.

ST. JOHN: Okay, Alex, good point. I want to get another caller on the air before the end of the hour. So let's go to Bruce from Scripps Ranch. Bruce, go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I'd like to comment that this issue of redevelopment is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is the cert of thing that you can do at different levels. You don't have to do it at a assistant level forever of it's the sort of thing that you can invest in more heavily, in good years, and you cut back on in tight years. You know, the gas lamp redevelopment, downtown San Diego was a fabulous, wonderful thing, I'm glad it was done. But this is not something that you have to keep redevelopment, [CHECK AUDIO] fed with a pipe that runs all the time. In good years you can fund some projects, but it's really important to keep kids in school. If you don't redevelopment an area for a couple of years, that opportunity is still there.

ST. JOHN: Okay, Bruce, thank you, that's a very good point. I just want to throw it Michael and say, it seems like the City of San Diego is fighting hard to preserve billions of dollars worth in redevelopment by hook or by crook, despite of what happens.

SMOLLENS: Well, sure, if you go down the list of things, if you put the stadium or low income housing on the ballot, what's San Diego gonna vote for, and I think it might be the stadium. You've got downtown that looks very nice because of redevelopment. So people understand that's something visual people can see. Soap I understand the fight. It's a more difficult argument, it seems a little more abstract when you talk about in-home services and teachers and stuff like that, although teachers issue I think that starts hitting close to the bone. But that is real stuff, and that's what the debate is coming to be about. And I think this year, people have seen in the past governments seemingly crying wolf, I think people are getting it that this is -- it's gonna hit the fan this year.

ST. JOHN: Okay, I think the only thing that I'm -- just have a few seconds left, we're still a little unclear what is counter proposal is, it sounds a little bit like having your cake and eating it too, and more borrowing --

PERRY: Don't forget, we've been through this before. $2 billion were airlifted to Sacramento two years ago to help close the vote, and then this was a vote, there was a state proposition, supposedly ban that? That idea of stealing -- stealing -- from redevelopment agencies to keep the budget in Sacramento clean, and now it comes back as a proposal. So again, no good ideas, just old bad ideas and somebody is gonna get messed around pretty bad.

SMOLLENS: The key thing it seems that it would keep the redevelopment agencies going, the governor talked about just getting rid of them, and this would keep it going even if ratcheted down for a little bit.

PERRY: They have bonds to pay, they have salary, they have a lot of things.

ST. JOHN: There's a lot at stake. Well, listen, gentlemen, that was a very good discussion today. I'd like to thank Tony Perry of the Los Angeles times, Michael Smollens of the San Diego UT, and John Warren of San Diego voice and Viewpoint.

PERRY: Do I get to say one more thing? Go Aztecs!

ST. JOHN: Go Aztecs! Yes, everybody's talking about the Aztecs, so we wish them well. Okay. Thanks so much for listening. I'm Alison St. John in for Gloria Penner.

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