Governor axes redevelopment—Finally the bleeding stops

By Chris Norby, Assemblyman, 72nd District

Yesterday, Governor Brown formally signed AB26x, a long-overdue bill that ends redevelopment agencies in California as we have known them for over 50 years.

Redevelopment was originally created by the legislature to address urban blight and to revitalize decaying residential and commercial districts. Cities were empowered to create local redevelopment agencies with enhanced powers to divert property taxes, sell bonds, expand eminent domain and subsidize private development.

By the 1980s, a tool once used by a few large older cities had spread statewide. Newer suburbs were declaring raw land to be blighted to build new malls, auto plazas and big box retail centers—all subsidized at taxpayer expense. By 2000, over 30% of all urbanized land statewide had been declared blighted and included in redevelopment areas.

Tax increment financing diverted ever more property tax revenues into redevelopment agencies—at the expense of public safety and education. By 2010, over 12% of tax revenues had been hijacked by redevelopment agencies—over $6 billion statewide.

Eminent domain became the tool of choice to assemble the huge new parcels needed for redevelopment projects—all motivated by promised economic benefits. Homeowners, small merchants and even churches were targeted for taking on behalf of politically connected developers.

Repeated studies showed that redevelopment subsidies produced no net economic benefits. Savvy retailers, auto dealers and NFL team owners played one city against another for greater subsidies and land write-downs, but for the state as a whole it was a zero-sum game. California became littered with half empty malls, auto plazas and strip centers all over-built with huge public subsidies.

Meanwhile, bonded indebtedness soared to $90 billion, as agencies could encumber future property taxes without a vote of their constituents.

With the state facing a $25 billion shortfall, the losses to redevelopment agencies became unsustainable. The state could no longer backfill the fiscal bleeding to local schools and services. The signing of AB 26x saves the state budget an immediate $1.7 billion. Once the debts are paid off the full $6 billion annually will be restored to fund public services and education.

Redevelopment was never indented to be a permanent drain on the public treasury, never intended to be a permanent cash cow to subsidize development that the market alone could not support.  Credit Governor Brown for ending a program that had long outlived its usefulness.