On Monday, the City Council will cut a $70 million check to Sacramento. This will be done through a two-part process. First the city of San Diego will commit by law to pay the county  $70 million in this fiscal year, and $16 million in every fiscal year thereafter. Then, the redevelopment agency will remit the same payment to the city of San Diego though tax increment and reserves. The $70 million will come from projects that have been identified in these areas, including a substantial portion from affordable housing.
I have been a supporter of redevelopment. But, I do not support redevelopment at any cost. There are three problems with the city’s $70 million offering.
Firstly, this action continues a trend of last-minute deal-making that has gotten redevelopment into trouble in the past. This list of projects has not been adequately discussed, and there are serious concerns that affordable housing is being short-changed. The complete list of projects was not available until Friday. There was no City Council committee hearing on this subject, even though an ad hoc Redevelopment Committee exists precisely to hear these sorts of issues. Compare the cuts of $70 million being rushed through this week, with the cuts of $40 million in the city’s budget, which went through 3 months of public hearings and input.
Secondly, the thrust of this action appears not so much to save redevelopment, as to save the Centre City Development Corporation and the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation. At the same time that the community has raised serious concerns  about the equity of the money being spent on downtown alone, there has been little action on this front, from the mayor or the City Council. This is the perfect moment to re-prioritize our spending, and to take a holistic approach to redevelopment project areas with a smaller pot of redevelopment dollars, supplemented by infrastructure financing districts. By taking the action on Monday, the mayor and City Council are effectively subverting the committee hearing process and the innovative ideas that are being discussed there. If the decision to maintain status quo on the structure of redevelopment locally is already signed into law, what is the point of public input?
Thirdly, there is no need to rush such a significant expense without prudent fiscal review. State law requires the ordinance committing funds to be adopted by November 1. Other cities are deliberating their way through the costs and benefits of such a significant commitment of taxpayer dollars. We are sending mixed messages to the public, a tale of two property tax dollars. One set of property tax dollars is in such scarcity, that we are cutting our services to the bone, cutting our libraries, parks, and safety. The other set of property tax dollars is in so much abundance, that we can write a $70 million check without blinking. No wonder the public does not think there is a revenue problem in City Hall!
If we write the $70 million check on Monday, any chance of serious reform of redevelopment locally in the city of San Diego, will effectively die.
Murtaza Baxamusa is the Director of Planning and Development for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation. He lives in Bird Rock.