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Cleaning up redevelopment

Original post made by Tim Hunt, Castlewood, on Jan 16, 2012


Pleasanton and Dublin officials are probably resting easier today than their counterparts in Livermore, Danville and San Ramon.
The latter three all are faced with unwinding their redevelopment agencies by the end of the month after the state Supreme Court ruled that the state Legislature and the governor did have the power to end the agencies. In the 2011 budget deal, the Legislature agreed with Brown's proposal to eliminate the redevelopment agencies.
Dublin never undertook to set up a redevelopment agency, while Pleasanton actually was moving forward with an agency until a group of citizens revolted. That campaign vaulted Tom Pico into the public spotlight and he went on to serve as both a council member and mayor.
The Pleasanton plan included the undeveloped land where the Raley's shopping center now stands (it would have provided a huge tax increment) as well as the downtown. Of course, that was a huge stretch to consider vacant land "blighted." When the redevelopment plan went down, the city instead used its capital improvement budget to completely rehabilitate downtown utilities and streets and create the physical plant that enhances downtown today.
By contrast, Livermore has used the redevelopment money to create its new streetscape in a portion of downtown as well as the 500-seat Bankhead Theater. The public investment did spur some private investment elsewhere on First Street.
Of course, for Livermore, the big question now is the expensive 2,000-seat regional theater. Redevelopment funds, backed by the city's general fund, were supposed to cover two-thirds of the $184 million cost of the regional theater that would compete with venues in San Francisco's theater district. Prior to the Supreme Court decision, the City Council declared money for the regional theater encumbered and thus free from being taken back by the state—despite not having broken ground nor sold any bonds for the project. Whether that will stand up to scrutiny remains to be seen.
Livermore Mayor John Marchand flatly said last week that without redevelopment, the theater will not happen.
This may be a situation, where state action saved Livermore leaders from sending the city down a financial road it may not have recovered from without substantially reducing services. Remember, Livermore shuttered a fire station for six months because it could not afford to pay the firefighters to staff it after revenues were down because of the recession.
Ventures like Livermore's regional theater, convention centers and similar "investments" in the hope of private capital to follow are the type of projects that caused the governor and legislators to take a hard look at how much money was being diverted from the state's general fund to pay for such projects.
That said—redevelopment can and has worked well. San Ramon used its agency to transform a dilapidated shopping center into housing and built a senior center. Danville extended Railroad Avenue—creating a parallel downtown street—as well as public parking.
And, in fairness, although Livermore's redevelopment has yet to show a profit in terms of sales tax revenue downtown, residents love the updated portion of First Street.


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