How would you like to spend your dime of every dollar from your property taxes? In San Diego region, 10.7 percent of $3.8 billion in property taxes overall goes to fund redevelopment. As the state of California moves closer to eliminating redevelopment, there are some of us who still believe that public investment is a necessary tool for rebuilding the middle-class through good jobs, affordable housing, quality public education and sustainable infrastructure.
For or against redevelopment? There are two main camps of thought: one that claims redevelopment is a local revenue source for projects that the state should leave alone, and the other that claims that redevelopment is short-changing education. There seems to be little room for compromise.
Cities are relying on legal posturing (such as the $4 billion project wish-list adopted by city of San Diego). But, there is no real “plan B,” grounded in true policy reform. For those of us whose jobs, housing and community improvement are critically dependent on redevelopment funding, this is no consolation.
Meanwhile, the community is divided on whether downtown redevelopment agencies are truly serious about investing in good jobs and infrastructure equitably.
What Gov. Brown has initiated, has national consequences in financing urban development, even more than the Kelo decision in 2005. In Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the City of New London could use eminent domain power to take private property to pave way for new development.
This spurred a national wave of opposition and reform of redevelopment, and has exposed the practical meaninglessness of the term “blight” that originated in post-World War II urban renewal and reconstruction.
Blight findings have become a cottage industry for highly-paid consultants, an anachronistic vestige from the mid-20th century, where slums were cleared to build skyscrapers and freeways. Try explaining blight to a worker that is unemployed for a year or to a family in foreclosure.
The benefit of redevelopment is not just in direct spending, but in the leverage it brings from other public and private sources. In this column, I have frequently talked about jobs created in downtown redevelopment. The California Redevelopment Association estimates that there are over 25,000 jobs at risk in our region if redevelopment is eliminated.
Redevelopment is often the foundation, without which the entire structure of financing urban infill development gets shaken. Turning off the flow of public investment into some of our barren communities may dry up the nascent sprouts of recovery in jobs and housing.
As a community, we expect our elected leaders to move beyond insular rhetoric and getting the system fixed. Here are some questions to move us to a disciplined reason on spending the public dime:
(1) How much of the $424 million in property tax that was spent on redevelopment in San Diego region last year is inflationary; that is, how much would have occurred without redevelopment? How much could be used to fund education?
(2) How much of the $86 million of new tax increment spent on affordable housing (last reported in 2008) in the region needs to continue, and if so, through what alternate revenue sources?
(3) What are the supplemental revenue sources (e.g. facility benefits assessments, infrastructure districts) that will be tapped to fund redevelopment, to ensure that those benefiting are paying their fair share, and priority projects get built?
(4) How would public funds be leveraged with the private sector to ensure good careers in construction, and self-sufficiency in downtown low-wage workers?
(5) How could San Diego redevelopment lead the way in reform? How would downtown funds be invested in non-downtown neighborhoods? Would affordable housing set-aside be increased to 30 percent? Would pass-through agreements with schools be re-negotiated?
For those of us who consider property tax dollars to be the foundation for community investment, we would like our state and local elected officials to spend the dime wisely.
Murtaza Baxamusa is the Director of Planning and Development for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation. He lives in Bird Rock.