The Mar Vista Community Council has joined Gov. Jerry Brown in supporting a proposal to eliminate the nearly 400 state redevelopment agencies as part of his broader plan to reduce the state’s projected $25 million budget deficit.
The board’s unanimous Feb. 15 resolution backs Brown’s plan, announced in January, that he says will save the state $1.7 billion.
According to Brown’s office, those savings could be redirected to firefighters, police officers and to local schools.
Having more revenue for local schools and governments was the caveat in the Mar Vista council’s decision to support the governor’s redevelopment proposal. Part of its motion indicated that the community council’s support was contingent on redirecting the funds that would be saved by closing redevelopment agencies.
“Be it resolved that the Mar Vista Community Council goes on record as supporting Gov. Brown’s proposal to dismantle community redevelopment agencies, if and only if (the Los Angles Community Redevelopment Agency)’s tax increment money is redirected back to local schools and local governments as planned,” the motion states.
Ken Alpern, a co-chair of the community council’s transportation and infrastructure committee, said redevelopment agencies might have been viable at one time but have outgrown their usefulness.
“I think this is a perfect example of how government has been inappropriately living beyond its means” said Alpern, whose committee brought the motion before the community council.
Alpern feels that with a large state deficit and the possibility to assist the local school district, eliminating redevelopment agencies is an easy decision.
“In terms of adding into development, government has no business in these times,” he said.
Mar Vista’s position is interesting because most local governments have condemned Brown’s plan as detrimental to spurring economic growth and eliminating a tool that has revitalized several areas of Los Angeles.
Mayor Antonio Villariagosa held a rally with other elected officials in downtown Los Angeles Feb. 17 to spotlight what redevelopment has done for the city.
“We are coming together today as a community to express our priorities, and our number-one priority is creating jobs,” said Villaraigosa said. “I have been building consensus with business groups, labor, elected officials, and affordable housing developers to make a clear statement: redevelopment agencies are the most successful economic engines and job creators we have in Los Angeles.
“Redevelopment investments bring recovery to our local economy, jobs to our residents, and businesses to economically depressed areas.”
Officials in neighboring cities are also concerned about the governor’s proposal.
“Redevelopment is California’s primary engine for supporting jobs, reinforcing the economy, funding affordable housing, and building infrastructure,” Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould said. “With an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, a massive infrastructure deficit, and state policies promoting development, California needs redevelopment more than ever to create a stronger and greener tomorrow.”
Santa Monica resident Donald Barr, a developer who has redeveloped projects in Culver City and other Westside cities, has a different opinion of redevelopment agencies and their importance.
“I think the city would be greatly helped if the governor went ahead with his plan,” he asserted.
There are no redevelopment projects in Los Angeles Council District 11, and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said that when a redevelopment venture creates jobs, eliminates blight and adds affordable housing, he supports them. But he also feels that redevelopment agencies do not have the same level of scrutiny that other entities have.
“There doesn’t seem to be the same kind of oversight that exists in other areas of the government,” he noted.
Supporters of Brown’s plan claim that redevelopment agencies have long been slush funds for wealthy developers, and a Sept. 30 report from the state Office of Oversight and Outcomes revealed irregularities in how some entities have used their affordable housing funds.
State Controller John Chiang announced Jan. 24 that he will be examining the books of 18 redevelopment agencies, including the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, to see if some of these charges have any merit.
“The heated debate over whether (redevelopment agencies) are the engines of local economic and job growth or simply scams providing windfalls to political cronies at the expense of public services has largely been based on anecdotal evidence,” Chiang said in a statement. “As lawmakers deliberate the governor’s proposal to close (redevelopment agencies) and divert those funds to local schools and public safety agencies, I believe it is important to provide factual, empirical information about how these agencies perform and what they bring to the communities they serve.”
The probes will look at, among other things, how the redevelopment agencies define a “blighted” area, whether they are appropriately paying for low- and moderate-income housing as required by law, whether they are accurately “passing through” payments to schools within their community, and how much redevelopment agency officials, board members and employees are being compensated for their services.
The controller’s office said the probe was being launched to determine how redevelopment agencies are using their funds and to the extent to which they are complying with the laws that govern them.
“We want to provide cities with factual, empirical data on the state’s budget problems, and this review (could assist them in doing so,” Garin Casaleggio, a spokesman in Chiang’s office, told The Argonaut.
The examinations of the 18 agencies are slated to be completed by next month.
Mar Vista council First Vice President Sharon Commins believes the agencies should be eliminated if Chiang’s office finds irregularities.
“I think, personally, if even half these stories coming out in the media are true, these agencies are not serving their purpose and the state should utilize these resources elsewhere,” she said.
Rosendahl applauded his community council for its vote. “I appreciate them taking the position that they took,” he said.
Alpern said the plan to build a stadium for a professional football team with redevelopment funds, as well as the agency’s Jan. 20 vote to subsidize billionaire Eli Broad’s art venture illustrate why these entities are no longer necessary.
“Just when you thought that the City Council and the mayor would get it, they turn around and do something like this,” he said.
Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency commissioners agreed to spend $52 million on parking and improvements for Broad’s planned art museum in downtown Los Angeles. Supporters of the governor’s plan have characterized this and an earlier move by city officials to shield $930 million from the state as an end-run around Brown’s proposal to eliminate the redevelopment agencies.
Alpern said that is an indication that communities that are blighted do not always see the benefits of redevelopment.
“I think that developers have been some of the primary beneficiaries,” he said. “I’m totally against public funds going to private developers at a time when we can’t even pay for roads and other infrastructure.”
The Legislature will vote on Brown’s proposal later this year.