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Mayors Speaks Out Against Plan To Eliminate Redevelopment Agencies


San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders traveled to Sacramento this week to voice his opposition to Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate local redevelopment agencies. What has Mayor Sanders proposed as an alternative to the governor's plan? And, how will San Diego be affected if redevelopment agencies like CCDC are eliminated?

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders traveled to Sacramento this week to voice his opposition to Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate local redevelopment agencies. What has Mayor Sanders proposed as an alternative to the governor's plan? And, how will San Diego be affected if redevelopment agencies like CCDC are eliminated?


Scott Lewis, chief executive officer of

Ricky Young, watchdog editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune

David King, editor and founder of

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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.

We're sitting at the Editors Roundtable here on KPBS, with Ricky Young of the San Diego UT, David King of, and Scott Lewis of And next, we're gonna be talking about the battle over how to spend our property tax dollars. The governor has dropped a bomb shell on amount of dreams like a new Chargers stadium, for example, the Escondido's new wall park, new hotels in Oceanside and Chula Vista, the his goes on and on, and brown is planning to eliminate redevelopment agencies that get a special sure of our property tax to build those sorts of things. Scott, can you explain, you just put an interesting article on voice of San Diego to sprain how this comes down to a choice, really, gonna redevelopment and education.

LEWIS: Yeah, well, you -- we all pay, if you own property, you pay property taxes and those taxes are divvied up by a formula that goes to county, the local cities, special districts and on. And redevelopment allows a neighborhood to sort of draw a line around that neighborhood, and say, like, and measure where the property values are, and as the property values increase from that point on, the property taxes will increase, but those taxes, rather than going into that pie and that formula can stay in that neighborhood, and be invested in construction projects, the idea being that that'll then increase the property values again, create more of that increment, as it's called, and that can be divvied up, the problem is that that takes money that would have gone to schools away from that formula. Schools in particular are important because the state is required to back fill that, and so the state sends money down to the schools to back file when they would have gotten from the redevelopment or from those property taxes that redevelopment has sequestered so what the governor is saying is that he wants to stop that subsidy, and let the formula work its magic and fund schools, and then the state would be on top of that, required to provide prop 98 funding to schools of that's how he makes the arguments that the school will get a billion more dollars. Peet Wilson was in town, the former governor, the former mayor of San Diego. And he said that was brazen theft. I don't know how you can call it brazen theft if it's the state cutting off a subsidy of something. That'd be like call a cut to a city service brazen theft to that service. I don't think that's quite accurate. But then we could have a good debate about that.

ST. JOHN: Yes. So now, there's a approximately that just came out yesterday showing that 63 percent of responders favor eliminating redevelopment agencies. Do you think that's -- do you think they understand it enough? And do you think that the big guns, the lobbyists, actually, will overturn that?

KING: Exactly, I think that the public perception reflects the list of projects we rattled off before we started talking about Petco Park, and a baseball park, or excuse me, the Escondido baseball park.

ST. JOHN: Yes.

KING: Father Joe builds affordable housing using redevelopment money. Scott's analysis of this taking money away from education and Jerry Brown's theory depends upon the assumption that development within these areas would have happened anyway. If you go in and redevelopment an area and that redevelopment wouldn't have happened but for the fact that it's declared as a redevelopment area and redevelopment agencies facilitate development, you increase the amount of money that the school districts have. School districts participate to a lesser extent in the increment, even the additional tax base, school districts get a portion of that, even during the redevelopment plan period.

ST. JOHN: So --

KING: In other words, if the development wouldn't have happened but for redevelopment, redevelopment increases the amount of money that's available for schools.

ST. JOHN: Scott?

KING: Go ahead.

LEWIS: No, to a quick history lesson, when redevelopment was started, are the whole point was that if there was a redevelopment area declared that was abusive or something like that that wasn't -- that development probably could have occurred anyway without that sort of investment. It was set up so that schools would provide that check. It was set up so that schools would sue if they knew that they were going to be pulled away from them, and it wasn't appropriate. So they would then only decide and only agree that it would have to be pretty obvious that an area just simply would not develop without it. After prop 13, schools were gain teed funding from the government, from the state, and so they were no longer incentivizes to provide that check on redevelopment, so there's no natural over sight now of that process. And then we have -- that's why it's so frustrating to watch the officials in largely abusing the process of approving these projects going forward, and then just getting them done because there's no -- there's no determination, and there's no analysis about whether that would have happened without it.

ST. JOHN: So David, I mean, the point being that there isn't this check and balance so much. And I've heard a lot of criticism of redevelopment agencies that even the legislative analyst's office says there's no evidence it promotes redevelopment. What it does do is give local government some access to property taxes that they can control.

KING: It's worth taking a look now to see -- for example, we're talking about coming out exactly what we're gonna do, we're firing back and forthwith Jerry Brown, and people -- John Chang is -- the state controller is conducting a survey right now to see what the actual facts are on the ground. There's real redevelopment, for example, SEDC, and that part of town, that you can't expect developers to go in there, pay the costs of clearing toxic ground fields when you could just go out and clear cut virgin land instead. That's how it's easier to develop in areas where you've got virgin land, it is better for the environment, it is better for the city to redevelop areas that are already blighted. Is it truly blighted or is it fluff to pad the city's budget? I hate to pick on Coronado here, but what exactly do they do in Coronado which has a redevelopment agency to declare an area blighted? Not enough homes putting up bunting on the fourth of July? That's a stretch to think of that as a slum area that needs to be redeveloped area in Coronado.

ST. JOHN: So that's one of the areas that Chang is going to in --

KING: Exactly. I think that Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate all redevelopment agencies everywhere is crazy. Of there's just too much of an expectation that it continues to exist. There's too much reliance upon it, there's too much dependent upon it continuing right now. And it does such a good thing for cities, particularly San Diego. The abuse of it is which we need to trim back. And there needs to be some effort to reign it in and say, at the same time, is this truly redevelopment when you're going into Poway, and redeveloping a neighborhood and letting Poway keep the tax increment, would a developer have gone in there but for redevelopment? That's the true question.

ST. JOHN: There's always a debate over is this area really blighted? I remember I can't understand field too was wondering should we declare this a blighted area?

KING: I leave my office every night in the east village, and I do not tap the brakes until I am on the 5. I see blighted areas that still need to be redeveloped. That would be true redevelopment in my mind.

ST. JOHN: Okay, now, Ricky, do you think this is something that even if they don't get eliminated, which is still up in the area, that there's a lot of reform that needs to happen to this redevelopment process?

YOUNG: Yeah, the state controller is looking at Coronado, as you mentioned, and David said they have a redevelopment zone, in fact, the entire city has been declared a redevelopment zone. And it doesn't look terribly blighted when you drive through it. I was just reading this morning, the LA Weekly has a piece about some of LA's redevelopment projects including a 50-million dollar parking garage for a new Eli Brode museum, the New York Times has a piece about how redevelopment money is being spent on a lot of things other than projects, including to pay cops in Oakland. You know, basically operating money. So there's a lot of places and ways that redevelopment has strayed from its original mission. And I think Jerry Brown putting it on the table just has made for a lot of good discussion on this subject.

ST. JOHN: Well, one of the questions I was wondering to put out to our listeners is, would you be willing -- nobody wants to pay more taxes or fees, but basically would you be willing to more to get something more discretionary, like a Chargers stadium, perhaps more than something that you feel is just a government responsibility.

YOUNG: The thing about redevelopment is to allows cities to fund the projects without people paying more taxes.

ST. JOHN: That's right, that's right.

YOUNG: It basically takes tax money that's there and claims it for themselves.

ST. JOHN: Let's just take a call here, we've got a few calls on the line. Lori Saldaña from Clairemont. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Good morning, and thank you for having this discussion. When I was the chair of the assembly of housing and community development committee, we had many discussions over the roll of redevelopment going forward, and, a plying changes to the calculations and quotas of affordable housing, and I think what happened in San Diego were the caps on our redevelopment agency was raised as part of a budget deal is what soured a lot of people on this. And made people recognize that maybe it does require another look. And I think what the governor is and troller Chang are doing is long over do as an analysis. Because there are agencies around the state who have done very well. And there are agencies that have not performed well. And I think that his discretionary view is long overdue.

ST. JOHN: Thanks very much, Lori. This is something, Scott, I know you wanted to say something. I mean, do you see the possibility that this might actually lead to some reform in sack success so that this process somehow can be reconstituted in a way that some of the good sides of redevelopment agencies would continue?

YOUNG: I think it'll be in the interests of development supporters to somehow come up with a compromise that, like David said, would maybe handle some of the concerns and not eliminate it completely. But the specter of it being eliminated completely has force the all these agencies around the state, not forced them, but persuaded them to do some emergency sort of spending and debt incurrence so they can get these projects going. We just heard just a few minutes ago, that Kevin Faulkner, the city councilman for downtown San Diego is going to put four projects up, the [CHECK AUDIO] the north embarcadero and another one to get those going after the governor has a chance to cut it off. I think Ricky makes a great point. This is a way -- one of the governor's other proposals is that you make it so that you only have to do a 55 percent vote to get a tax increase for something like a stadium or a convention center. Of what he's basically saying is that if, you know, people don't believe development is going to happen in an area without government control and investment of it, why not actually raise the money for it and invest it and give get the citizens to actually approve it in a vote? Which we haven't gotten the vote on the pedestrian bridge, we haven't gotten a vote on these other things. And would we have approved that pedestrian bridge at $30 million with all we know about whether it serve it is the general populous.

ST. JOHN: I'd be very curious.

LEWIS: Right.

ST. JOHN: For example, the public voted down the parcel tax for fire protection because they felt like the government shouldn't do that.

LEWIS: Right. Barely.

ST. JOHN: But would they vote if it was a 55 percent vote for something they really wanted in the way of capital improvement?

LEWIS: And I think that's something we should discuss. Of and I find it ironic that conservatives like David are thinking the government investment has to be the only way that somehow this free market development can occur. Why are we so dismissive of what happens in downtown LA where development did occur without redevelopment investment?

ST. JOHN: We have Olga Diaz who is the City Council member in Escondido on the line. Olga, thanks for calling of what's your point?

NEW SPEAKER: Well, in Escondido, first, you mentioned the ballpark project, if you look at the redevelopment agency map of Escondido, it's pretty much the entire core of the city. And not all of it meets blight definitions. But what happens with redevelopment money is that it goes into this separate pool of cash. And it circumvents the general fund. And so we're actually I would say, if we're gonna use the term robbing, we're robbing the general fund of moan that would normally make its way to our general fund as part of the regular property tax process.

YOUNG: That's one of Jerry Brown's point is that the cities would actually get more money for these general funds. They wouldn't have to do these trick the way Oakland is doing to fund police using redevelopment money.

KING: We can't say that downtown San Diego redevelopment hasn't been successful. How many people were gonna go in -- how much was the city collecting on property taxes from peep shows and porn shops in downtown San Diego as opposed to the sharing today and the tax increment? It's been a win-win. Obviously it concentrates it in order to get the public infrastructure and facilitate the redevelopment projects today in California, and in particular in San Diego; there would be absolutely no development whatsoever without redevelopment, specifically. There is no financing whatsoever for development projects.

ST. JOHN: Well, Encinitas does not have a redevelopment agency, it's the only city -- as far as Del Mar not to have one, and it still is doing redevelopment.

KING: They're building today, but these are projects that have been approve aid long time ago. There are no busy land use attorneys in all of San Diego because the only projects that are being approved right now are we development projects.

LEWIS: Nobody is saying that downtown San Diego isn't greatly improved place. The whole point, though, of redevelopment is that it stopped at some time. Is that it end. Of and we were undergoing a discussion when it should end. A whole year long discussion that was completely taken out of our hands. And so, you know, in some of biggest --

ST. JOHN: The, is EDC.

LEWIS: Right, some of the biggest scandals that we've seen in local government have come from redevelopment agencies and their managers. So this idea that we could just sign off on all redevelopment just because of what the great things it did downtown, I think is something we need to reevaluate. And we can't just say, like, we gotta do this, because look at how great the east village compared to the way it looked benefit. Well, great, why don't we just do whatever we want because of what happened in the past? I think we need to reevaluate that, and that's just a healthy discussion.


YOUNG: I think there is some public support for these given prop 22, which passed in November, which the cities put forth to protect their money from Scott raids or takeaways as they call them. And redevelopment was mentioned during that campaign. And the thing passed with 60 percent of the vote. The irony that I think is interesting there is, Jerry Brown who might otherwise have looked AT&T a raid of redevelopment funds forced we prop 22 to actually suggest shutting down redevelopment agencies. So --

ST. JOHN: One last comment.

KING: This is exactly what Ricky says. Of this is a state raid on local government money just like a lodge laundry list. You got pot holes on your street, that's because the gas tax, are the taxes you pay when you pump your car up with gas are not staying locally. They're being rated by the state. This is money that's supposed to -- it's a budget fix. Go ahead.

LEWIS: Property taxes are paid and collected locally, and they stay locally.

KING: They're not -- by the state.

ST. JOHN: Unfortunately we've run out of money, and I can see this -- there's such diametrically opposite perspectives on this. It's such an interesting discussion. We have a few more months for it to play out. So we'll be watching it carefully. But I'd like to thank you all, Scott Lewis of, David King of San Diego News, and Ricky Young of the San Diego UT newspaper. I'm Alyson St. John in for Gloria Penner. And thank you all for listening to the Editors Roundtable here on KPBS.

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