Redevelopment Battle Heating Up Locally

Some questioning Governor's motives

By Gene Cubbison
|  Friday, Feb 11, 2011  |  Updated 4:48 PM PDT
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Redevelopment Battle Heating Up Locally

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California Gov. Jerry Brown announces his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on Jan. 10, 2011, in Sacramento.

What was once a relatively low-profile issue in San Diego has turned 'hot-button,' thanks to power politics in Sacramento.

Redevelopment.

A cash cow California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to carve up to help erase the state's budget deficit.

The Centre City Development Corporation has just touched off a furor by postponing public outreach meetings on its plans and operations until redevelopment's future in California becomes more clear.

Its purpose?

To resurrect blighted urban areas.

While critics say it siphons away too much money from schools and other needs, backers say they are short sighted.

"What a lot of people don't understand," said Darren Pudgil, press secretary to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, "is that the tax revenues that are generated downtown are used throughout the city for services like police, fire, parks, recreation and libraries."

Right now, redevelopment agencies in San Diego and 400 other cities that have them are racing to lock up funding for a variety of renewal projects — before Sacramento shuts down the process and uses its $6 billion in annual tax increment proceeds to help close the state's budget gap.

And to bankroll schools, counties and other districts.

Redevelopment's defenders warn that would stall improvements that generate more taxes, jobs, and economic expansion.

But there's a growing school of thought that says the process needs major reforms, to curb abuses that tend to favor private interests over the public good.

"We've seen things where they're going to have to consider environmental protections as well as worker protections," said Lorena Gonzalez, CEO of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. "And I think that's some of the language in some of the bills I've seen floating around that could emerge from this."

Gonzalez has misgivings about CCDC's stewardship of downtown redevelopment, which she described as all about "serving developers and the downtown elite, and not really being open and community-minded."

Meantime, there are rumblings in Sacramento that all the money the redevelopment agencies are trying to squirrel away in a hurry could be subject to recapture by the state anyway.

"Whether or not the governor can do some sort of end runaround and take that money away, we don't know," Pudgil said. "But we're going to do our damndest to protect San Diego and keep that money here locally."

There is also speculation the Governor does not necessarily want to terminate redevelopment.

Just pick its pockets — for billions of dollars, not petty cash.

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