Posts Tagged ‘Redevelopment’

In theory, California’s experiment with redevelopment agencies had good intentions. In practice, it was just a corrupt way for subsidizing auto-centric development.

During the latest budget crisis, Governor Brown killed off all the redevelopment agencies. They were sucking too much money out of the General Fund.

A bill under consideration in the State Senate would revive the concept in a more limited form. SB-1, authored by Darrell Steinberg would authorize tax increment financing for building “sustainable” communities around transit stations.

So would this bill avoid the mistakes of the past? Would the new development be walkable, bikable, and transit-oriented as proponents are claiming? Here is the actual text from the bill, defining parking requirements for commercial developments:

“Infill project” means a project that meets the following conditions:

30(ii) Retail or commercial, where no more than one-half of the project area is used for parking.

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With the demise of California’s Redevelopment Agencies, the City of Ventura has come up with an unusual  way to fund projects:

Now in a time of shrunken resources, what’s key is to protect our quality of life and improve our standard of living. Which brings us to the recent unanimous decision by the City Council  to borrow $850,000 from a commercial bank at 4% interest and then lend it  at 8% interest for two years to the Players Casino which recently relocated to a vacant auto dealership in the Ventura Auto mall.

It’s a departure from our usual course of business, evoking some sharp reactions.



Just call it…TARP for Casinos.

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Can a parking lot at a Caltrain station be “blighted”? That was the logic behind a convoluted Redwood City plan to build a transit-oriented development project.

The most important things are that the project be very successful and that it supports downtown as a whole, for example, by creating a lot of sidewalk activity on nearby streets. For that kind of flexibility, however, the land must fall under the redevelopment agency before it can be transferred to a selected developer.

Good grief. If a city wants a walkable neighborhood, then just sell off the parking lot and re-zone the neighborhood for higher density.

But noooo, that would be too easy. And even worse, it means the City sells to the highest bidder!

Unlike its redevelopment agency, Redwood City would have to sell the property to the highest bidder “without consideration of other factors, such as who is most experienced with similar developments, who is proposing the best project for downtown, or whether the buyer even plans on building anything,

To recap: the City Council believes it knows better than a developer how to best utilize the parcel. And they want taxpayers to subsidize the politically-juiced developer. No wonder Governor Brown wants to shitcan the redevelopment process.

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Blighted Farmland

Is it possible for farmland to be blighted?

That was how San Jose described the North First Street corridor, an area that was farmland not too long ago. Thanks in part to efforts of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, it has now been paved over into office park hell.

North First Street is another example where RDA’s fail to consider neighborhood livability and sustainability in development plans. The VTA built a billion-dollar light rail line along 1st St, but the development is purely auto-oriented.

Most galling of all is the RDA parcel at Holger Way, at 237/North First interchange.

A pretty good Class I bike/ped trail runs alongside highway 237. Some of it was built as part of the Bay Trail project, other segments were built as mitigation for the highway 237 construction. One annoying gap is between North First and Zanker. How easy would have been for San Jose to have fixed this gap, as part of redevelopment. Problem was, their staff had no idea the trail even existed.

Not only was this gap not filled, but for 10 years a fence was thrown up across Holger way, forcing cyclists to make an unnecessary detour.

The reason I bring up this planning clusterfuck is because the annual meeting of the California Redevelopment Association is being held in — of all places — San Jose. And this may be their last meeting ever, because Governor Brown wants to eliminate Redevelopment Agencies for good.

As reported in the Mercury News, the conference was more of a confessional:

Is it an Irish wake or an old-fashioned revival meeting? At this week’s annual meeting of the California Redevelopment Association, it’s been hard to tell. The three-day conference, which ends Friday at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, may turn out to be the final gathering of almost 400 of the state’s active redevelopment agencies if a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to eliminate them comes to pass. Or, as the roughly 600 attendees are hoping, their last-minute efforts, counterproposals and reform pitches to state legislators may be enough to pull redevelopment from the grave. With crisis, some say, comes opportunity — and maybe even redemption. “We have to admit to ourselves that we have sown some of those seeds of our own destruction,” John Shirey, executive director of the association, told a general session audience.

San Jose has been one of the worst abusers of redevelopment process. What better place to bury RDA?

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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.

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