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Facing the budget music

Editorial

Gov. Brown's proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies is controversial, but it's worth considering.

January 20, 2011

Second, there is considerable question about how redevelopment funds have been used statewide. In its "Arrested Redevelopment" series in October, The Times detailed the bumbling of small-city agencies in which redevelopment officials tasked with spending millions of tax dollars to build commercial projects and affordable housing produced few results and lacked accountability. A third of the state's agencies, which spent a combined $700 million in housing funds from 2000 to 2008, did so without constructing a single new unit, the investigation found. The state lacks the power to enforce laws requiring agencies to produce housing, and lacks the money even to audit required housing construction. Agencies charged with reducing blight sometimes worsened it. Redevelopment officials often seemed out of their depth handling projects that required the expertise of finance and real estate professionals.

Third, even in Los Angeles, where the Community Redevelopment Agency has built more than 13,000 housing units (about a third of them classified as affordable) plus neighborhood-lifting commercial projects, there is often a very cozy relationship between developers with campaign cash to distribute and elected officials with contracts to give out.

And fourth, an end to the agencies need not be an end to redevelopment. Part of Brown's realignment plan is to allow cities to sell redevelopment bonds on a 55%, rather than a two-thirds, vote of the people.

Naturally, city leaders would rather sell redevelopment bonds without an election; it's often difficult to persuade voters to back redevelopment projects. But Brown's proposal at least offers a solution. It shows a way forward for cities as well as the state. Now the burden should fall to Los Angeles, and hundreds of other cities and redevelopment agencies whose budgets and programs are intimately intertwined with the state's, to craft workable solutions and alternatives that keep California solvent, keep Californians working and put local residents back in charge of their civic destinies.

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