By Lynne Bronstein
Since the dissolution of the state’s redevelopment agencies in January 2012, California cities have been up the proverbial creek when it comes to money for civic improvements, housing, and other civic projects. But a proposed ballot measure might bring redevelopment agencies back.
The Orange County Register reported on March 27 that the Costa Mesa law firm Rutan & Tucker has created the “Jobs and Education Development Initiative” which would allow cities to once again have redevelopment agencies. The initiative would require nearly 505,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Already some California cities are supporting the initiative. Because of pending litigation over the dissolution of the agencies, however, most of the cities involved have refused to be identified.
Culver City Manager John Nachbar stated to the Observer that Culver City is not involved in the initiative effort at this time.
Cities that are documented as having given financial support to the initiative campaign include Anaheim ($25,000) and Ontario ($50,000) according to the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, which opposes the initiative.
Spokespersons in Anaheim point out that redevelopment funds improved their city, providing housing, restoring blighted areas, and improving the quality of urban life.
Critics of redevelopment have said the agencies allowed local officials to seize properties and use property tax revenues to fund new development. In the words of Nick Mirman of the property rights group, redevelopment allowed cities to spend “billions of dollars a year and go into debt to create no new jobs and to reward politically connected developers.”
More criticism has sprung up online, with opponents arguing that the initiative’s language expands the definition of a “blighted” area, thereby making it theoretically possible to declare the entire state of California a “blighted area.”
The refusal of some of the supporting cities to come out in the open is also a factor that opponents are crowing about, calling the ballot proposal a “ghost initiative.”
The text of the initiative reads as follows: "Repeals elimination of redevelopment agencies. Allows local governments to reestablish redevelopment agencies and resume redirection of certain local property taxes to redevelopment projects, away from other local services. Removes prior redevelopment law's requirements for redevelopment plans to have certain dollar and time limits and caps on redevelopment agency debt. Expands prior definition of blight to allow whole cities and counties as redevelopment areas if county's unemployment rate exceeds statewide or national average. Reduces and makes optional the prior law's minimum affordable housing component. Extends prior law's time limit for using eminent domain."