(UPDATED: See end of article for more info)
As a card-carrying member of SD Rostra’s Tiny Libertarian Conspiracy, I’m ecstatic that Gov. Jerry Brown (how strange not to say this in the past tense) plans to help balance California’s budget by ending the corporate welfare of redevelopment agencies.
It’s long been a scandal how these agencies have been abused by ethically challenged politicians to create windfalls for influential friends and contributors, with secrecy more befitting a criminal enterprise than a government putatively committed to the public interest. The venality of both Republican and Democratic officeholders made redevelopment agencies invulnerable, even as state and local government finances tumbled into chaos. But our old/new governor has decided that the insatiable redevelopment agencies are unaffordable.
The story I’ve linked to by Steven Greenhut explains why both fiscal conservatives and social service lefties should celebrate Brown’s move.
“If Jerry Brown succeeds in eliminating these agencies, it will be a great accomplishment not only for budgeting sanity given that redevelopment agencies take billions of dollars from traditional public services, but for property rights. The CRA has fought virtually every reform that would keep cities from using eminent domain for economic development. Redevelopment allows agencies to declare virtually anything blighted, thus giving them the power to bulldoze private property in order to enrich private developers who have other ideas for the property. Government planners love redevelopment, because it enables them — rather than the free marketplace — to determine what goes where in cities. Although redevelopment originally was designed to fight blighted areas, it typically is used as a means to enhance sales tax revenue for cities.”
Success in abolishing the redevelopment agency lamprey means both an end to subsidizing wealthy developers (which the left will like) and better protection of private property rights (which the right will like). Taxpayers, the poor, and property owners will win. The only losers will be the wealthy developers and the amoral politicians who use each other at the public’s expense.
Greenhut also discussed a San Diego connection that bears remembering:
“Note that Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher inserted budget language that vastly expanded San Diego’s redevelopment project area so that subsidies could flow to stadium developers. Fletcher, like other big-government Republicans, then went on to sign Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge. Yet Fletcher’s redevelopment actions show that these pledges often are for show — he clearly is of the big-government, tax-wasting, special-privilege mold.”
Fletcher is going to have a hard time overcoming this unsavory wheeler-dealer reputation, especially since he’s still defending the redevelopment agencies.
San Diego is often cited as a redevelopment success story, yet its budget is in ruins, and the city became known as Enron by the Sea. That’s because local politicians didn’t pay attention to the most basic of budgetary tasks: ensuring that you spend less than what you take in. Had the politicians spent as much time on Budgeting 101 as they did on redevelopment, San Diego would be in much better shape.
As Greenhut noted in closing, Brown is certain to advance many bad ideas. But this one is a sensible surprise, a pleasant contrast to the ruinous policies of his narcissistic predecessor.
UPDATE Wed, Jan 12:
The indispensable Don Bauder, a longtime observer of the redevelopment racket, gave a nice overview on how San Diego’s redevelopment scam works Monday.
Steve Erie, professor of political science at UCSD, explains that technically, the San Diego city council is the redevelopment agency, but it routinely passes the decisions to the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC). “In San Diego we have been playing hide the pea. CCDC is a shell game. City council says it is not our decision and it lets CCDC determine where the money flows.” So it flows downtown. Neighborhoods are neglected. The city slashes fire and police protection, cuts library hours, doesn’t keep up with maintenance and infrastructure while it pushes for downtown projects. The staff of CCDC is largely made up of people from the development industry who pick the pockets of the neighborhoods and line the pockets of downtown developers. “Under Brown’s plan there will be political accountability,” says Erie, who thinks the new slogan may be “Potholes over Sports Stadiums.”
As they say, please read the whole thing.
(NOTE: This article represents the views of Bradley J. Fikes, and does not necessarily reflect the views of his employer, the North County Times.)