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Cities Race To Block Redevelopment Funds

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Riverside Mayor says eliminating redevelopment agencies would be 'damning'

By Chris Levister –

Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to eliminate municipal redevelopment agencies and shift a range of services such as firefighting, parole, and court security to the local level got both a thumbs up and a stern warning from an expert on city governance: Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge.

Loveridge, is the immediate past president of the National League of Cities, a national lobbying, advocacy and leadership organization. He says much like mega-states Texas, Illinois and New York, California is struggling with a new normal: huge deficits, a frayed social safety net and a Legislature and electorate in no mood for higher taxes or extending existing ones.

While empowering local governments, the governor would eliminate redevelopment agencies that receive about $1.7 billion a year from local property taxes. The money would go to other local services.

A revolt by city officials from Sacramento to Palm Springs against Brown’s planned elimination has spawn several emergency meetings to discuss transferring billions of dollars from their redevelopment agencies to city control to keep the funds out of state hands.

“Redevelopment has been an economic engine in large and small cities across America. In Riverside it’s provided funds for affordable housing, paid for major expansion projects, given tax breaks to businesses that operate in depressed areas designed as enterprise zones. It’s helped us clean up University Avenue,” he said. “To eliminate redevelopment would be very damning.”

Mayor Loveridge can look out his City Hall window and see a host of the kind of redevelopment projects on Brown’s chopping block, including his ambitious signature downtown Renaissance Initiative.

City Manager Brad Hudson warns an end to redevelopment agencies in California might cost Riverside 72 city jobs and deliver a brutal $8.6 million hit to the city budget.

Loveridge said redevelopment construction at University Avenue and Lime Street would not have happened without redevelopment funding.

Redevelopment money took that area from decades of zero tax base blight to economic vitality.”

Under Brown’s proposal about a dozen functions would be shifted to counties, which would take responsibility for such services as psychiatric hospitals and outpatient mental health treatment. The state's Child Welfare Services, which includes foster care, adoptions and child abuse prevention programs, also would be turned over to counties.

Counties would have to lock up more nonviolent criminals under the governor's plan, and Brown has earmarked more than $740 million for them to house additional prisoners and parolees.

He wants counties to take on some work now done by state firefighters as well. That would free the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from having to respond to an estimated 60,000 medical emergencies each year, and counties would get $250 million annually to fill the gap.

Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, who leads the statewide county association, worries that the state will saddle local governments with more duties without the money to pay for them. The push eliminating redevelopment in favor of greater local control isn’t likely to get a pass from some civil rights organizations like the NAACP whose leaders fear underserved populations will be left out.

Waudier “Woodie” Rucker Hughes, President of Riverside Branch of NAACP/ Southern Area Chair of NAACP explains Brown’s local control agenda is tantamount to “states rights” “which were put into the hands of local governments during the Civil Rights movement.

African Americans were promptly excluded,” said Rucker Hughes.

“I am reminded of a situation when the last Governor, recognized he needed to reach the hard to reach communities in the Inland Empire, he sent money for advertising local governments. Those funds were diverted to pay for other services. Rucker Hughes said some staffers challenged why the designated funds should be spent in publications in the African American and Hispanic “hard to reach” communities.

Rucker Hughes also cited wide spread mishandling of stimulus dollars intended for underserved communities.

“Contracts continue to go to those that have and the have not’s still did not prosper. We must employ caution and a system of checks and balances,” she said.

“This is zero sum stuff,” said Loveridge. “We can expect a lot of push and pull among interest groups, a lot of people have a stake in Brown’s redesign agenda, but at the end of the day, states must produce a balanced budget. In doing so they must find ways to be rational, transparent, efficient and equitable.”

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