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Redevelopment Leaves A Mixed Legacy In San Diego

Redevelopment advocates are bemoaning a recent court decision that eliminated such agencies throughout the state. But while redevelopment worked in some areas of San Diego, it wasn’t successful across the board.

Redevelopment advocates are bemoaning a recent court decision that eliminated such agencies throughout the state. But while redevelopment worked in some areas of San Diego, it wasn’t successful across the board. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr looks at where it worked, and where it didn’t.

— When you mention redevelopment in San Diego, downtown inevitably comes up. It was the first area in the city and widely judged as the most successful.

The scope of what redevelopment has accomplished in downtown can be clearly seen in a model of the area put together by the Centre City Development Corporation, or CCDC. Miniature skyscrapers and condos populate the platform the model sits on. Many are white, indicating the project was begun or completed after the neighborhood was declared a redevelopment area.

CCDC Board Chair Kim Kilkenny said CCDC’s ability to approve and fast-track projects contributes to its success. He said the elimination of redevelopment could hurt the neighborhood.

“We will not have the public revenues to spend for public infrastructure that has in the past proved to attract private development,” he said. “So, it’s going to be hurtful.”

The impact of redevelopment is obvious in downtown. But its benefits aren’t as clear-cut in other parts of the city.

Michael Jenkins stands near the busy intersection of College Ave. and Montezuma Rd. near San Diego State University.

“One of the things to keep in mind is that redevelopment is risky,” he said.

Behind him stand a gas station, taco-shop and strip mall. Jenkins is a former redevelopment attorney and served on San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency in the 1990s. He said the area near SDSU represents a place where redevelopment didn’t quite pan out.

“Redevelopment has done some initial first steps. But it hasn’t really reached the premise the area wanted, despite a lot of support from the neighborhood,” he said. “There were some disagreements between SDSU officials and city officials about how to proceed, and as a consequences things just never got done.”

Jenkins said, on average, about 50 percent of redevelopment areas in California are unsuccessful. Redevelopment deals are often complex and can sometimes get stalled. Neighborhoods like North Park and City Heights have seen some success with using redevelopment money to restore landmarks or build affordable housing. But Jenkins points to Barrio Logan as one of the least successful project areas in town. It took 20 years for a major development to get started there.

And redevelopment agencies have seen their fair share of scandal too. Former CCDC President Nancy Graham was accused of having a conflict of interest with a developer. She later resigned. Two former leaders at San Diego’s Southeastern Economic Development Corporation recently pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money. Current SEDC President Jerry Groomes acknowledges that hurt the agency.

“Without question, you know, not only does it hamper your progress, but it impacts your credibility as well,” he said.

But Groomes is focusing on moving forward and he maintains SEDC has been successful in creating jobs and other economic opportunities for the community. He points to the Imperial Marketplace shopping center as one of the area’s most successful projects. SEDC helped prepare the land to make it suitable for development.

“That, as an example, is a probably close to a $50 million development,” he said. “And it never would have been achievable if a developer had to come in a start from square one.”

Groomes was confirmed to his job the day Gov. Jerry Brown announced he wanted to eliminate redevelopment. He said he just needs more time to get things done. It’s a common refrain from redevelopment areas, no matter how successful they are.

Currently redevelopment agencies must shut down by February 1, but it’s possible that deadline may be extended.


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