Another View: Mend, don’t end redevelopment

By: Kevin Hanley
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Governor Brown’s proposal to eliminate all 425 local redevelopment agencies and take their money for state budgetary purposes would kill the City of Auburn’s Streetscape program, which is designed to boost our local economy in historic Downtown and Old Town Auburn. For the last three years, city council members acting as directors on the Auburn Urban Development Agency (AUDA), city staff, business owners and residents have worked hard to develop and implement a multi-year Streetscape Program — stretching from the Courthouse to Elm Street — to make shopping in Auburn more attractive. Redevelopment dollars invested in under-grounding the utilities and building attractive walking and visiting areas — as seen in Central Square (Phase I) — has created new small businesses, local jobs in the shops and construction jobs. By making these infrastructure improvements, we are creating an opportunity for private sector businesses to thrive. At the Festival of Lights Parade in December, I had fun watching Auburn residents talking to friends and family around the fire pit or walking to the new restaurant and other revitalized shops as the Placer High marching band and other floats passed by. Done right, redevelopment creates jobs and adds value. With a state unemployment rate that exceeds 12 percent, it is shortsighted and harmful to shut down the one program that actually helps to create local jobs. According to the California Redevelopment Association and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, if Governor Brown’s proposal to shut down all redevelopment agencies were adopted, it would kill 300,000 jobs a year, most of them construction jobs. These lost jobs won’t magically reappear anytime soon given the state legislature’s hostile policies toward small businesses. As seen in the June 2010 issue of Chief Executive magazine, the nation’s top CEOs rated for the fifth year in a row California as the worst state to do business in the nation. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the West (source: Tax Foundation) and the fourth-worst tax system for job creation (source: Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council). The state’s budget will never be balanced unless state leaders focus on creating jobs not destroying them. And even if the governor’s proposal was enacted, it would likely be tangled in litigation. Last November, California voters supported Proposition 22, which prohibits the state government from taking or delaying the distribution of local redevelopment and transportation dollars. In Placer County, voters overwhelming supported Proposition 22 by a 63.08 percent to 39.92 percent margin. It has been demonstrated over and over again that voters want local money to stay local. If they don’t like what their local elected officials are doing with their tax dollars, they can kick them out of office. Are there problems in redevelopment law that need to be fixed? Yes. I agree with the critics who point out that some cities and counties use overly broad eminent domain powers to purchase small businesses in order to create large developments to generate sales tax dollars. That is wrong on so many levels. To prevent this corrupt practice from occurring here, I promoted and the City of Auburn enacted an ordinance in June 2007 to prohibit the city’s redevelopment agency from using eminent domain powers against homes and businesses in order to transfer the property to big developers. Many Auburn residents, including self-described liberals and conservatives, support this eminent domain reform proposal. In Auburn, we will develop through cooperation, not coercion. The California Legislature should take Auburn’s ordinance and enact it statewide to ensure that redevelopment is used properly and not abused. Good state policy would mend, not end redevelopment. Kevin Hanley serves on the Auburn City Council.