While redevelopment might once have been considered a key weapon in the War on Poverty, redevelopment officials now find themselves gearing up for a different kind of battle. They rallied the troops today, laying out a strategy for opposing the elimination of redevelopment in order to help close a $24 billion budget gap.
In a videoconference today the leadership and legal counsel of the California Redevelopment Association vowed that the organization would not compromise in its effort to turn back Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to eliminate redevelopment in the state. CRA Executive Director John Shirey repeatedly made a life-or-death analogy, saying "you can't compromise when there's a gun to your head." According to the governor's budget proposal, released last week, all 500-plus of the state's redevelopment agencies would be dissolved as of July and their tax increments freed for a variety of purposes. This threatened dissolution, according to Shirey, gives the redevelopment community no room for negotiation.
Shirey, along with attorney Brent Hawkins and CRA Legislative Associate Dave Jones, pointed to a number of aggressive legal and lobbying strategies that CRA and its member agencies plan to employ in the coming weeks. Shirey recommended that member agencies lobby elected officials, submit op-eds to their local papers, and rally allies such as builders, developers, and business associations. CRA's public relations offensive revolves around an oft-cited claim that redevelopment project areas represent over 300,000 private sector and construction jobs statewide. Shirey admitted, however, that "there's not really a pile of studies" to prove (or disprove) the effectiveness of redevelopment. He noted that redevelopment generates roughly $2 billion annually in revenue but stopped short of insisting that that amount represents a net gain caused by redevelopment activities.
On the legal front, CRA officials said that dissolution of redevelopment would violate as many as three provisions of the state and/or federal constitution: Proposition 22, Article 16, Sec. 16 of the California Constitution, and/or a violation of the contract clause of the state and federal constitutions. Jones called this situation a "conundrum" for the state. They vowed that if lobbying fails to persuade the Legislature to reject the governor's proposal, they would mount legal challenges.
Despite the governor's aggressive actions towards redevelopment, Shirey stopped short of vilifying him, admitting that the state is in dire financial straits and praising the governor for wanting to balance the budget "in an honest way." He did, however, emphasize that redevelopment "didn't get the state into this mess." He also took swipes at the firefighters and teachers unions, both of which, he said, have been angling to free up the redevelopment tax increment for educational and public safety purposes. Jones noted that the conflict between redevelopment and education "is the crux of our problem" because it pits redevelopment against education, which is of course popular among voters. Shirey insisted that this is also a false conflict because redevelopment monies often go towards school construction and fire stations.
During the videoconference, many of the questions from agency participants revolved around existing obligations and the possible transition that would occur if and when redevelopment is abolished. CRA officials emphasized that the Legislature has yet to pass any legislation freezing new obligations and that all existing contracts and legally binding agreements will be honored. Although he encouraged members not to think about dissolution, he said that he has yet to hear concrete plans for what form the "successor agencies" might take. Jones indicated that, rather than take the place of redevelopment agencies, they would likely "wind down and put redevelopment out of business."
CRA officials are intending to ramp up their lobbying efforts in anticipation of the meeting of the Assembly Budget Committee on State Administration, scheduled for Feb. 7.