02/21/2011 05:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eliminate Redevelopment Agencies

On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that "cities throughout California" are illegally using money intended to redevelop blighted areas: "That helps explain why so many are fighting so hard against Governor Jerry Brown's proposal" to shut down redevelopment agencies. Before Governor Brown was inaugurated, he began to face California's horrendous budget deficit left by his predecessors. The governor saw that California does not have enough money to provide basic services to its residents, services like educating our children, providing medical care to our sick or injured poor, and police and fire department protection. Money does not grow like almonds and grapes in the San Joaquin Valley where workers toil in and die in 100 degree heat. Like a family of four living in Glendale or La Mesa, the people of California can only purchase what we have money to pay for. Within days of his inauguration, the governor announced his desire to eliminate redevelopment agencies to reduce spending. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles redevelopment agency "hastily voted... to commit $830 million of agency money, to carry out redevelopment projects for years to come -- presumably moving money out of the state's reach." The Times reported that there are about 400 redevelopment agencies which collect about $5 billion in property taxes.

California courts (e.g., County of Los Angeles v. Glendora Redevelopment Project 185 Cal.App.4th 817 (2010)) report that we enacted the Redevelopment Act in 1945

to combat urban blight through: expenditure of property taxes that would have otherwise gone to other governmental entities, like the school, police and firefighters. In order to be eligible for use of property taxes to subsidize private business, the project must be in a blighted area that is predominantly urban and adversely affected by economic and physical conditions too serious to be cured by private or government enterprise.

It was a time of abundance in California.

According to the San Diego Reader, "in response to the governor's plan, cities across the state are rushing to approve new redevelopment projects before any legislation is signed into law." San Diego is doing the same. Redevelopment in the downtown area of San Diego is overseen by the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) a nonprofit public corporation. San Diego's 2010 city budget reports that CCDC has 52.5 employees who work under a president who receives a $225,000 annual salary. The 2010 CCDC budget reflects $6,424,000 for the 52.5 CCDC employee, or more than $122,000 per employee. The average public school teacher and firefighters in San Diego earns less than half as much, The average teacher earns $48,377 annually. The average San Diego lead firefighter earns $52,000 a year. Even with the lower salaries, San Diego is laying off teachers and proposing elimination of fire apparatus and fire crews.

According to a San Diego Tribune writer, prompted to ward off the Governor's proposal, CCDC approved the North Embarcadero plan, a "$29.6 million allocation to beautify San Diego's watery 'front porch.'" The news article reported that the project has been 13 years in the making, to widen the esplanade between B streets and the naval piers, landscape the Broadway and North Harbor Drive corner and add a park on Harbor Drive across the street from a planned hotel development. One need do little more than go to the corner of Broadway and Harbor Drive to search for the blight and question whether limited taxes should be used to widen an esplanade and add a park to a proposed hotel development.

Governor Brown appears to hope that local governments will spend revenue from property taxes on our children's education and other services basic to our state's history. Just as one would not remodel his or her home when the one lacks money to send a household member to the doctor, it is questionable that we spend our limited funds on government agencies that plan to widen an esplanade and landscape parks when we are unable to hire teachers, police officers and firefighters.

Even if the legislature chooses to eliminate redevelopment agencies, perhaps delaying employment of construction workers and landscapers, if we don't want to close fire stations and want to have teachers to educate our children, we must continue paying taxes at the current level. Governor Brown wants the people to vote on this issue. A handful of Republican legislators are trying to stop the people from voting. Before he took office, Governor Brown said we would all face hard choices. This is one of those hard choices, regardless of political party.