Follow Pleasanton's lead: disband redevelopment agencies | January 21, 2011 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - January 21, 2011

Follow Pleasanton's lead: disband redevelopment agencies

With the current still-sluggish economy and the city's concern over unfunded pension liabilities, Pleasanton can be glad it never got into the redevelopment agency (RDA) business. Others have, including neighboring Livermore, which is continuing to finance its millions of dollars in downtown improvements through its redevelopment agency. But that could end abruptly. Gov. Jerry Brown wants to disband the 400 or so redevelopment agencies statewide, including Livermore's, sending the funds they collect to school districts, counties and the state.

Since Brown's announcement, city officials around the state have been protesting any plan that wipes out the RDAs, saying it would stop affordable housing projects, the planned development of new parks, libraries, community centers or, in Livermore's case, more downtown developments and possibly a long-planned performing arts center. Some projects might have to be scrapped in mid-construction, since these cities can ill afford to pick up the costs with their dwindling General Funds.

But that's what Pleasanton decided to do. Back in the mid-1980s, the City Council proposed setting up a redevelopment agency to handle downtown improvements, including the replacement of an aging sewer system unable to carry off heavy rains. A large swath of the downtown area was mapped out, and voters were asked to support the plan. But a key word -- "blight" -- somehow made its way into language used to explain to voters why the RDA was needed. That infuriated property owners of downtown businesses and homes who disputed the term. With scant publicity and poor promotion, the measure was voted down with only 11% of registered voters bothering to cast ballots, most of them the downtown area property owners.

From then on, Pleasanton used its General Fund to pay for capital improvements, methodically setting up a Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) segment in the budget, identifying and prioritizing those projects each January, funding the CIP with as much money as tax revenues would allow, and then building the projects. 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 RDAs, on the other hand, are fundamentally undemocratic agencies. Writer Randy Shaw, in an article entitled "How Redevelopment Agencies Subvert Democracy," reported that his research shows that RDAs operate as private fiefdoms outside the general control of elected officials. Once elected officials approve a redevelopment area, unelected and politically unaccountable officials typically gain control of hundreds of millions of dollars for the next 30 years. If these RDA controllers share passions for affordable housing beyond what a city may be required to have, financing is provided for more subsidizes and affordable homes. If those in charge of the RDA are persuaded to finance a huge performing arts center even though similar projects have failed in nearby cities, the RDA makes the appropriation.

Though little understood by the public, the state's 400 active redevelopment agencies run on about $5 billion each year in property taxes generated in the project areas for economic development -- money that would otherwise go to schools and counties. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger grabbed $2 billion over the last two years from the RDAs just to balance the budget. Although Prop. 22, a city-backed measure passed last November, prohibited such raids in the future, no one apparently saw Brown as the governor who would actually seek to abolish the RDAs altogether. It's a move that makes fiscal sense in a state that can no longer afford redevelopment agencies and their grandiose projects.


Posted by Russell, a resident of Country Fair
on Jan 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm

In the recent opinion article titled "Follow Pleasanton's lead: disband redevelopment agencies" of Friday, January 21, 2011, the author hits a hidden issue right on the head. One only needs to look to Vallejo for an example of RDAs etc gone wild. There and elsewhere proponents of RDAs (i.e. private developers and speculators) hide their un-democratic ways by using well oiled publicity machines to divert the citizen's attention away from their thievery and on to others like nurses, police officers, teachers, etc, saying it is their pay and benefits that is the cause of diminishing public services. In reality it is the big money RDA proponents, up to and including their Wall Street buddies, who spend untold amounts of money to elect council members that will set up RDAs and then appoint those same big money folks to officiate over the funds of the RDA. They give away billions state wide to their cronies through this money funnel while the average citizens sees their public health, safety and education programs go in the tank. And oh by the way have you noticed that those cities that have RDAs are now rushing to approve the use of RDA dollars because the governor is proposing to cut off the gravy train and redirect the money back to the community to be used for education, public safety and healthcare. Sounds and looks like a bank robbery just before closing time. Don't forget some of those dollars could of helped us one way or another. Once again, kudos to the author of the aforementioned opinion article for shedding some light on a topic that has been quietly making the rich richer at the expense of the average citizen.

Posted by anon, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Jan 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Sounds to me that this is fight between the unions and developers over who gets this pot of money, and Jerry Brown prefers to give the money to his favored supporters. At least with the redevelopment agencies there is usually something to show for the money. If you give it to the public sector unions it will probably only lead to higher compensation and increased pension payouts, further perpetuating the current problem. Giving money to the unions after they have just consumed the bulk of the stimulus money looks like more union pay-back. The public unions have had issues with restricted RDA funds for years (not the private sector unions because this helps create jobs for them). Go ahead and shut down the redevelopment agencies but why not give the money back to the taxpayers. We are taxed enough already.

Posted by Arroyo, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Very perceptive of you to recognize what JB is doing.

Of course, in PTown any time the "D" word is used the nimbys get hysterical. So, our "reDevelopment" agency is something fairly easy to give up.