Goodbye redevelopment agenciesThe new year may not be a happy one for California's 400 redevelopment agencies and their supporters with the decision by the State Supreme Court to dissolve them and move the $1.7 billion in revenue that they've collected to schools and other public programs where the money belongs. This is sure good news for taxpayers who for too long have seen their funds appropriated by appointed -- not elected -- local officials who often made decisions without adequate accountability on how to spend the money, whether for more parks, libraries, community centers, waterfront improvements or, in the case of neighboring Livermore, on a monstrous performing arts center of questionable need and with uncertain long-term funding.
Pleasanton years ago decided against establishing a redevelopment agency and Dublin never had one. In Pleasanton's case, the City Council determined that to pay for capital improvements, it would methodically set up a Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) segment in the annual budget, identifying and prioritizing these projects each January, funding the CIP with as much money as tax revenues would allow, and then building the projects. In lean years, such as the one just passed, no capital expenditures were approved as the city froze both public hiring and its employees' salaries. The Main Street sewers, new parks, Bernal Community Park baseball fields and, most recently, the $10 million Firehouse Arts Center were all financed this way. Each project also was part of a public process that gave everyone a chance to look at the plans and sound off if they had objections.
The State Supreme Court ruling, which upholds not only the elimination of redevelopment agencies but also strikes down a law allowing them to continue operating if they shared money with the state, is a win for Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown supported closing redevelopment agencies as a way to get more money to the state. The state will now have more than $1 billion annually in property tax revenue to use on future budgets (mainly for public schools and public safety). Many members of county governments are also applauding the decision, saying it will put more money into public schools. In the past the state, which has a huge deficit, backfilled money school districts lost to redevelopment agencies. For the life of us, we don't understand why the League of California Cities has opposed disbanding these redevelopment agencies.
According to the state Finance Department, public schools will receive in the neighborhood of $l billion in the current fiscal year as a result of the court's decision, with the remainder of the $1.7 billion to be divided among cities, counties and special districts both this year and in future years.
We've said before that the redevelopment agencies were fundamentally undemocratic agencies. Writer Randy Shaw, in an article entitled "How Redevelopment Agencies Subvert Democracy," reported that his research showed that RDAs operated as private fiefdoms outside the general control of elected officials. Once elected officials would approve a redevelopment area, unelected and politically unaccountable officials typically gained control of hundreds of millions of dollars for the next 30 years. If these RDA controllers shared passions for affordable housing beyond what a city may be required to have, financing would be provided for more subsidized and affordable homes. If those in charge of the RDA were persuaded to finance a huge performing arts center, even though similar projects have failed in nearby cities, the RDA made the appropriation.
Gov. Brown's decision to dismantle the agencies and the high court's ruling in support of that action is a win for all Californians, making it indeed a happy new year for taxpayers.