A Redevelopment Hush

Katy Grimes: There’s mostly silence coming from Republican legislators on Gov. Brown’s budget plan proposal for for eliminating redevelopment agencies. The plan would take $1.7 billion dollars from city redevelopment agencies, and redirect the money to school districts, counties and the state to help close the budget deficit.

On the surface, the plan appears to be a real cut, and a sincere attempt to eliminate RDA’s, which is a good thing.

I assumed that Republican legislators would have something positive to say about the plan, since many Republicans think that “redevelopment” has always been secret code language for legal theft, eminent domain abuse and publicly funded subsidies for large developers.

However, nearly every Capitol Republican staff member that I’ve spoken with recently has been non-committal and provided carefully worded responses, instead of the support I expected for Brown’s proposed elimination of the agencies. Apparently, mum’s the word.

“We are going to wait to see if there is a reaction to recent attempts by agencies to cash in at the last minute. Once options on how to deal with it come up, then we’ll comment… I hate to put anything out there incomplete,” said one Assemblyman’s communication director, but on the proviso of anonymity. He even said they are “awaiting instruction.”

“We don’t want to say anything yet. Yes, Republicans are working on it, but don’t want to put anything out there too hastily,” was the word from Republican Assembly Minority leader Connie Conway’s office.

I understand not wanting to jump to conclusions when the Capitol policy people haven’t yet responded, however, Republicans are supposed to be reformers. Reformers like budget cuts.

As expected, Fullerton Assemblyman Chris Norby’s staff spoke positively about Brown’s redevelopment cuts. Norby actually wrote the book on redevelopment reform, and updates it annually.

“We are getting much the same response,” said Dave Titus, Norby’s chief of staff. “A lot of people are keeping it close to the vest right now.”

Because the labyrinth of the redevelopment process is complicated, it might be understandable that some legislators would be reluctant to comment until the full ramifications of the cuts are known. However, many legislators come from city government, and very clearly understand how the redevelopment process works, and that it is a system wrought with abuse, waste and fraud.

What is well known at the Capitol is the rift between city government representatives and the state.

After he presented his budget proposal, it was reported that Brown told city officials that now is not the time for “turf wars.” He challenged city officials to get out of their “narrow perspectives” and realize that everyone is in a tough situation as the state attempts to fill the $25 billion budget gap.

Brown’s decision to cut redevelopment agencies is serious; once the agencies are eliminated by the governor, they don’t exist any longer.

We can be thankful that the finance department has read  Norby’s books, and subsequent updated reports, “Redevelopment: The Unknown Government.” Norby clearly outlines the problem with excessive bond debt, vague definitions of blight, eminent domain abuse, tax shell games, and subsidies to business that all exist within redevelopment agencies.

Norby is the founder of Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR), a statewide coalition to end abuse by redevelopment agencies, abuse of eminent domain and public subsidies to private development. I highly recommend his books and reports as well – excellent reading material for budget hawks.

If Republicans don’t support a substantial structural cut such as eliminating redevelopment agencies, then what do they embrace as real reform?

JAN. 21, 2011

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