California Forum

Don’t let California lawmakers use the housing crisis to bring back redevelopment

Though California’s redevelopment program was ended by Gov. Jerry Brown and the courts in 2011, the severity of the state’s housing crisis has some lawmakers proposing that it be brought back.
Though California’s redevelopment program was ended by Gov. Jerry Brown and the courts in 2011, the severity of the state’s housing crisis has some lawmakers proposing that it be brought back. The Sacramento Bee

In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown and the courts killed a Frankenstein monster that had wreaked havoc throughout California for more than 60 years.

Last month members of the Legislature clamped electrodes to the neck bolts of the dormant beast and jolted it back to life.

Redevelopment was horrible, and that’s why Gov. Jerry Brown and the courts killed it. Now, like an all-too-real horror movie, it is rising from the dead.

The monster, which went by the name “redevelopment,” was an out-of-control government boondoggle that once consumed about 12 percent of every property tax dollar collected in the state. Redevelopment also gave politicians the ability to borrow billions of dollars without voter approval, creating a debt burden that Californians will carry for years to come.

And if that weren’t bad enough, redevelopment gave politicians enhanced powers of eminent domain that they readily used to evict thousands of Californians from their homes and businesses in a largely failed attempt to promote targeted economic development.

Redevelopment was horrible, and that’s why Brown and the courts killed it. But now, like an all-too-real horror movie, it is rising from the dead as Assembly Bill 3037, a bill to resurrect redevelopment recently introduced in the California Assembly.

The Legislature originally created redevelopment in the early 1950’s for the sole purpose of “eradicating urban blight” in “slum neighborhoods” located in San Francisco, Los Angeles and a handful of other large cities. The program consisted of a bundle of extraordinary powers granting local politicians the ability to borrow, tax and seize private property – all without voter approval.

It didn’t take long for politicians to realize that redevelopment could be used for much more than eradicating blight, and with that realization the monster was loose. By the time the program was halted in early 2012, more than 400 cities and counties, including many of the state’s most affluent suburbs, were using redevelopment to seize and clear land for new shopping malls, hotels, big-box stores, sports stadiums, luxury golf courses, municipal buildings and more. These were not projects in blighted neighborhoods but developments on prime commercial sites.

The members of the 1950’s Legislature would have been appalled at how their baby had morphed into such a voracious, uncontrollable beast, and therein lies the lesson. Politicians’ good intentions are soon lost to history, but the powers they bestow endure.

And those powers – you can be certain – will be used in ways never envisioned by their creators. In other words, no matter how noble the intention, giving politicians unfettered powers to do good is a bad idea.

The authors of AB 3037 want to use redevelopment to address the state’s high cost of housing. Don’t let them. Yank the electrodes from the monster’s neck before it rises to haunt Californians for another 60 years.

Yes, we have a housing crisis in California. We also have a transportation crisis, an education crisis, a water crisis, a public pension crisis and other crises in our beautiful but challenged state. And, yes, we do need to borrow money and collect taxes to tackle many of these problems.

But despite these challenges, we must never again grant politicians the power to borrow, spend and seize homes and businesses without our approval. Let’s not repeat a mistake.

Doug Kaplan is an Aptos commercial property manager who has written extensively on redevelopment. Reach him at doug@lomakgroup.com.

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