The California Supreme Court’s Dec. 29 ruling eliminating the state’s redevelopment agencies has drawn the ire of Santa Monica city officials and other state elected leaders.
The state’s highest court also reviewed two pieces of legislation related to redevelopment. The justices kept in place Assembly Bill IX 26, which paved the way for the dissolution of the agencies, and struck down Assembly Bill IX 27, which permitted the agencies to continue to operate if their respective cities or counties agreed to make payments to special districts and schools.
Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould denounced the court’s ruling as detrimental to municipalities’ ability to generate needed revenue during the lingering economic downturn.
“It’s regrettable that the Legislature and Supreme Court have stripped cities and counties of the one tool to produce affordable housing, generate jobs, and refurbish critical infrastructure,” Gould said in a statement. “This is especially true during this time of double-digit unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and a paucity of affordable housing in our state.”
Last year, state legislators voted to take away $1.7 billion in redevelopment agency funds and redirect them to public safety and school districts. Municipalities across the state decried the move and many, like Santa Monica, sought to safeguard city assets in the event that redevelopment was abolished.
Santa Monica has several high-profile development projects in the pipeline, including renovation at Santa Monica High School and the planned Civic Center parks.
“For years the city has been working to implement its redevelopment plan through a number of public works projects that will enhance community safety and welfare,” Gould added. “It’s our intent to move forward on existing projects where we have contracts which are unimpeded by the court’s decision.”
Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown echoed Gould’s promise to continue the planning of the pending development projects despite the court ruling.
“Because Santa Monica has relied on redevelopment for region-leading affordable housing production, as well as libraries, parks, and other community-serving amenities, we planned ahead to get worthy projects locked in and fully funded,” McKeown said.
“We’ll do everything we can to keep our promises to our residents and our neighborhoods.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, who began 2011 advocating for the closure of the state’s 497 redevelopment agencies, issued a statement after the verdict stating that the court had confirmed his plan to fund education and assist police and fire departments.
“(The Dec. 29) ruling by the California State Supreme Court validates a key component of the state budget and guarantees more than $1 billion of ongoing funding for schools and public safety,” said Brown.
Third District Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Santa Monica, took a different approach to the court verdict than Santa Monica representatives.
“I applaud the state Supreme Court’s decision to validate the state’s authority to modify or eliminate redevelopment agencies,” Yaroslavsky said. “Decades ago, redevelopment was a sound idea designed to invigorate blighted communities within our cities and counties.
“Unfortunately, over the years it evolved into a honey pot that was tapped to underwrite billions of dollars worth of commercial and other for-profit projects that had nothing to do with reversing blight, but everything to do with subsidizing private real estate ventures that otherwise made no economic sense,” the supervisor continued. “All of this has come at considerable expense to counties and cities which are increasingly starved of cash to meet their basic obligations.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was more measured in his remarks than the Santa Monica legislators, but he did touch on how he believes redevelopment helped Los Angeles as well as the need to fund public education.
“This year alone, we have created more than 18,400 jobs through the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency,” said the mayor. “Today our schools are in a dangerous and desperate financial position.
“An investment in education at this pivotal time could save an entire generation, and those to come, from falling behind academically and economically. Our communities have been dealt painful state and federal cuts to public safety while many mayors face an increasing need.”
Assembly Speaker John Per/z (D-Los Angeles) appeared to anticipate the ruling on the elimination of the state agencies but expressed dismay that cities will not be allowed to rebuild smaller versions.
“Today’s action by the Supreme Court is a mixed result. The Supreme Court validated the Legislature’s action to eliminate existing redevelopment agencies, but we are disappointed that they blocked the creation of smaller, more targeted redevelopment agencies that fully funded affordable housing,” Per/z said in a statement.
“Despite the court’s action blocking our creation of the smaller (redevelopment agencies) that protected affordable housing funding, we remain committed to finding affordable housing solutions and making smart economic development investments in our local communities.”
Per/z believes the minority party in the Legislature’s ideological stance on tax increases made it incumbent on Brown to look for outside revenue sources to reduce the deficit and fund education.
“With Republicans refusing to approve badly needed revenue increases, the Legislature’s action on (redevelopment agencies) became one of many necessary components to balance the $26 billion budget shortfall resulting from the great recession,” the speaker asserted.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose Los Angeles community of Mar Vista abuts Santa Monica, has no redevelopment projects in his 11th Council District but he does see redevelopment as several other elected leaders do.
“For many years, redevelopment has been used as a tool for eradicating blight and creating jobs,” Rosendahl said. “Maybe (California cities) and their attorneys could have sought a different kind of compromise before this went to the state Supreme Court.”
The California League of Cities indicated that it would seek to work with state legislators to bring back some form of redevelopment.
“Redevelopment is indispensable to cities to spur economic development, create jobs and improve communities. We know legislators recognize that and we hope they’re willing to work with us to reinstate redevelopment,” said league executive director Chris McKenzie. “We want to work as partners with state lawmakers to revive this tool in an accountable manner.”
Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey), who will be moving to Santa Monica this year to run in the newly created 50th Assembly District, said she and some of her colleagues in the Legislature are worried that the ruling will have a long term effect on a certain population in many cities, including in Santa Monica.
“Finding ways to get more affordable housing is certainly a concern, and even more so with the court’s ruling,” said the assemblywoman.
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley’s (D-Santa Monica) office did not return calls for comment.
Villaraigosa said he plans to invite Brown, mayors from across the state, Per/z and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to a meeting later this month to discuss a “sound, long-term solution” to the state’s economic troubles.
“Many will see this decision as a setback, but I see it as an opportunity for California to step forward and responsibly invest in our future,” Villaraigosa said.
Yaroslavsky, who is rumored to be considering a run for mayor in 2013, believes that if the agencies make a comeback they must do so with redevelopment’s original intent in mind and nothing else.
“If redevelopment is to continue into the future, it must be based on its original purpose – to end blight,” he said. “State and local government should work toward comprehensive reform of redevelopment law that limits its application to removing blight while preventing the kinds of abuses that led to (this) decision in the first place.”