SB community activist says put ‘community’ back in community redevelopment agencies
Chris Levister –
Longtime San Bernardino community activist and businesswoman Frances Grice says Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate community redevelopment agencies throughout the state may have been made with the best of intentions but is tantamount to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
She says CRA’s should be renovated not eliminated.
“Community redevelopment, done properly, not only improves blighted areas but puts people to work. The key here is ‘done properly’,” said Grice.
Grice one of the powerful engine’s behind San Bernardino’s 1977 “All America City” designation is currently President and CEO of ADF Networking Consultancy Inc.
She has an extensive background in providing community outreach programs in a broad range of services to public and private sector clients, assisting them with innovative models and programs to enhance the quality of life for neighborhood and community development.
Grice says community redevelopment agencies, once the voice of the people have become the voice of big money and special interest.
“But simply abolishing the state's network of redevelopment agencies would hurt the people and communities most in need of the jobs and housing created by public investment.”
When Grice first came to San Bernardino from Michigan in the early 1950s, she had already made her mark as an outspoken community activist who had little tolerance for city policies that promoted racial and economic inequity. “I was a dreamer who learned very early on that you can’t move mountains with one or two bulldozers at the table. Great businessmen and women often have the deepest sense of community responsibilities and the sort of realistic approach that helps bring about improvements in their cities,” says Grice sporting her trademark grin. “But you have to get community buy in.”
Founder of the Community League of Mothers in 1965, and Operation Second Chance, a community based job training center formed in 1967, her organizations quickly grew from the power of one to thousands locally who helped break down barriers in education, business, job training, housing construction and public infrastructure improvement contracting.
In 1973 Grice envisioned a state-of-the-art job training and education center to be built in the city’s then segregated Westside. It would become known as the Public Enterprise Center on Highland Avenue (renamed the New Hope Family Life Center).
“We built that center with the help of community redevelopment funds and matching federal money. To this day that building remains a beacon of hope and can do spirit for a proud city and a community that suffered under deplorable conditions for decades,” said Grice.
“The first thing we did was to assemble a team of community stakeholders such as then Mayor Bob Holcomb, members of the business, construction, education and civic communities. Then we went out and invited ordinary citizens to the table. Unlike today, everybody had a voice in how redevelopment funds would be spent. Somewhere along the way that community voice got lost. It needs to be restored,” explained Grice.
From the New Hope Family Center to the T. Hughes Building on Baseline which houses multiple community outreach programs to the destruction of the blighted and crime infested Meridian Apartments, redevelopment monies help cities reinvent themselves.
From the construction of a mega Kohl’s warehousing and distribution center near the San Bernardino Airport, to a state-of-the-art senior housing center under construction on Medical Center Drive, California's redevelopment program has been transforming polluted and blighted areas across the state into thriving destination spots and commercial districts for nearly 60 years.
Members of many local councils who in most cases run the redevelopment agencies (RDAs), say they depend on the billions in redevelopment funding for important projects to limit poverty and bring in sales tax revenue.
So it’s little wonder that Governor Brown’s proposal to scrap the $5.7 billion annual program has sparked outrage and launched a mad dash to lock up future revenue – in effect laying claim to the money Brown wants.
“We are extremely concerned about the governor’s proposal,” says San Bernardino Mayor Pro Tem and Sixth Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson. Concerned to the extent that the City Council is considering a plan similar to one approved by the Los Angeles redevelopment agency and other municipalities that would transfer funds to a non-profit agency in an attempted end run around Brown’s proposal.
The idea of redevelopment dates to the early 1950s, when progressive reformers saw an opportunity to use the power of government to address the blight and poverty gripping inner cities.
The idea was simple. Redevelopment agencies would be established in blighted areas. As the agencies improved an area, land values, and therefore property taxes, would rise. The difference between the old amount collected in taxes and the new would not go to cities and counties but to the redevelopment agencies, which would use the funds to pay for additional projects.
The need for redevelopment has not diminished in the intervening years. Today, in addition to a severe budget crisis, California faces an extreme human crisis, marked by high unemployment, an epidemic of foreclosures and some of the highest rates of poverty in decades. Grice says redevelopment, done properly, not only improves blighted areas but puts people to work.
She says redevelopment hasn't always stayed focused on alleviating blight and poverty. It is not always clear, for instance, that subsidies for certain development projects are the best use of public money or that these developments need public investment to be built.
She laments, in some areas, redevelopment has been aimed at making powerful developers the only bulldozers at the table. “Redevelopment should return to its original promise: improving poor neighborhoods and putting the people who live in them back to work. Responsibility walks hand in hand with capacity and power.”
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