To help close California’s gigantic budget deficit, Governor Brown wants to eliminate hundreds of local redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones. These entities have long been derided by critics as having little to no impact on employment in poor areas — while rewarding politically-connected developers with massive taxpayer subsidies. Thanks to Propositions 13 and 98, redevelopment agencies cost the State $2 billion in lost revenue. With the State facing a projected $25 billion shortfall, it is obvious why the Governor wants to curtail the program.
For transit activists, the Governor’s proposal offers a win-win opportunity. That is because the vast majority of redevelopment funds has been spent promoting autocentric development. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, redevelopment agencies leveled whole neighborhoods to make way for new highways. When that became unfashionable, planners left the homes intact but still didn’t give up on autocentric design. Billions of tax dollars have been poured into strip malls and other retail. Boosting sales tax revenue is the name of the game. And since transit riders are perceived as spending less than car drivers, redevelopment was about enticing shoppers to drive and park in the neighborhood.
For example, consider some recent projects funded through the San Jose Redevelopment Agency.
- Central Place Garage: Underground parking garage with 330 spaces. San Jose Redevelopment Agency contribution is $12.5 million. The project website ironically states “the facility is accessible through Central Place, a pedestrian-friendly street.”
- 4th Street Garage: 7-story, $57.5 million parking garage, situated in close proximity to where the San Jose BART extension is supposed to be built.
- HP Pavilion: This indoor arena features 1800-2100 parking spaces. The Redevelopment Agency contributed $135 million (so far).
- James Lick Parking Lot: $375,000 in Redevelopment funds to beautify a high school parking lot.
- Fairmont Hotel: 500 parking spaces in two-level garage. The hotel complex has received $56 million in subsidies.
- Maplewood Plaza: $500,000 subsidy for a strip mall.
The list goes on. Millions in corporate subsidies for Mariott, Adobe, and even a Ross “Dress for Less” store. And what about the infill Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), and Affordable Housing projects? Well, they feature parking ratios ranging from 2- to 3-per housing unit.
Does it makes sense to label a housing development “TOD” (or Affordable) when it features so much parking?
Consider the economics of 101 Fernando Street. This apartment complex features 65 low-income and 258 market-rate rental units, ground floor retail, and 564(!!) parking spots in a two-level subterranean garage. Bear in mind, it is situated in the “heart of downtown” walking distance to public transit and other amenities. The redevelopment agency provided a $9.3 million subsidy. Eliminating just one level of parking, to a more reasonable 1:1 parking ratio, probably would have been cheaper.
With their survival at stake, redevelopment agencies and their allies are pushing back. Last Friday, the League of California Cities held a protest / news conference to announce its opposition. This is the same League which has historically opposed ‘Routine Accommodation’ mandates designed to incorporate bikes/peds/transit into redevelopment. This will certainly be an interesting battle in the upcoming Legislative session.