Jim Kennedy may have taken the most thankless job in all of California planning. The former planning director of Contra Costa County and longtime board member of the California Redevelopment Association, Kennedy succeeds former executive director John Shirey, who recently became city manager for the City of Sacramento. Kennedy, who will serve in an interim capacity for up to nine months, arrives at a time when CRA's member agencies are fighting for their lives, and CRA, itself, is suing the state to overturn the budget provision that could financially cripple many of the state's redevelopment agencies. CP&DR spoke with Kennedy about these trying times at CRA.
What's the status of the lawsuit, challenging AB 1X26 and AB 1X27?
The parties are in the process of filing their various briefs with the court. On September 23, the CRA and League of California Cities will be filing their reply brief to the State Supreme Court. The essence of our brief is AB 1x26 and AB
1x27 are unconstitutional because they violate Prop. 22 and that they also violate Article XVI, Sec. 16.
Are there any different arguments from what was in the initial complaint?
They basically hit the same points, but they do provide additional documentation and citations to cases and legislative history that bolster the case.
The amicus briefs must be filed no later than September 30. A week from that, the parties have an opportunity to file replies. At that point, the formal briefing process will be completed. The court will then take the matter under advisement. They will schedule oral arguments, probably, before the end of November so they can reach a decision before Jan. 15.
We're expecting to get amicus briefs from some redevelopment agencies, and attempting to get amicus from parties that have supported us in the past: the building and construction trades and some other parties in the development field. It's a curious process insofar as you don't necessarily know who's going to file an amicus brief.
Let's turn to the organization itself. What inspired you to take this job?
"Inspire" is not necessarily the correct term. I strongly believe in the value of redevelopment, having been a redevelopment director for 25 years and in local government for 35 years. I've seen what this extremely valuable tool can get accomplished. Having been a member of the CRA board for about 10 years and the president of the board for 2 of the last 3 years, I had a fairly high level of knowledge of matters currently pending before CRA.
As a result, while I had retired from Contra Costa County, the CRA board approached me about taking the position on an interim basis to see the organization through the challenges of the next 6-9 months. At that point, once the decision has been made on the lawsuit and the organization has had an opportunity to reassess what its shape is, going forward, they'll be able to make institutional or structural decisions on what CRA will look like, or be like, going forward and recruit a permanent executive director accordingly.
What are the options for CRA, depending on whether you win or lose the lawsuit? What does the outcome of the case mean for the organization and for redevelopment?
Regardless of whether we win or lose, we believe that the shape of redevelopment will be changed in the future. The general direction of legislative initiativesï¿½leaving aside dissolutionï¿½has been to reduce the footprint of redevelopment so that it doesn't quite have the economic effect on local taxing entities as it has had. That means that redevelopment plans that have been adopted and have a time frame should complete their work and be retired. Some of the reforms they're suggesting are that large geographic areas inside of redevelopment project areas should be a thing of the past.
The institution of CRA will generally reflect its current mission, which is training and best practices for its members and working with the Legislature to help shape the legislation that governs us. Hopefully, we can get out of the mode of lawsuits.
What are you hearing from your members? How many will opt to dissolve vs. carry on if the lawsuit fails?
We haven't been keeping a log. We did a survey a couple months ago that said about 75-80 percent of agencies were inclined to opt in. The general tenor of commentary that we get from agencies is that they're concerned. They're fearful about their work and about the activities of their agencies in their communities. They're concerned at a personal level, because they don't know whether they'll have a job in the future. Especially in today's economy, these are pretty sobering circumstances.
What might reform look like, regardless of the lawsuit? Will it be little-by-little, or will there be wholesale reform, which some people are clamoring for?
At the present time, I don't see the basis for wholesale reform. I think the package of bills that we started out with in the last session, AB 286, AB 1250, and SB 450 represented pretty significant modification to the way that redevelopment agencies do business. We would all like to get through this process, get both the law stabilized and agencies' financial situations stabilized, and see how it works, rather than try to tinker with, or make, a wholesale change. On the other hand, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit or, more precisely, how the court decides to render its opinion, may provide the framework that will ultimately drive the answer to that question.
How much of your job now involves raising morale among your members?
We are preparing for a set of regional briefings that will provide an opportunity for members throughout the state to directly talk to CRA's lawyers on aspects of the lawsuit. That will be rolling out the second week of October. There will be a weeklong road trip by Brent Hawkins of Best, Best, and Krieger, David Jones, our lobbyist, and myself to engage the membership in a conversation about the status of the lawsuit and the legislative activities, both past and prospective, and get their direct input. Hopefully, this will be not just be informative to them but also provide them a level of comfort.
Are you glad you took the job, so far?
It's so different from what I've ever done before. It's both challenging and invigorating. At the same time, it's not what I would necessarily characterize as playing to my strengths. But I'm learning every day.
I have underscored to the board that I was not interested in the position long-term and was simply willing to come in to stabilize things through this transitional period.
This interview has been edited and condensed.