California's redevelopment agencies (RDAs) are becoming the total superstars of the budget crisis.
Sure, higher education is getting totally screwed and Medi-Cal is all but lost to the wind in Governor Jerry Brown's stingy fiscal proposal, but his idea to nix all the state's RDAs and funnel their funds into basic services is suddenly a Huffington Post-topper in a journalistic age reigned by fluff-puppies and Gila monsters.
In anticipation of yesterday's buzz-worthy meeting with Governor Brown, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa struck his usual pose of confidence two nights ago with an optimistic press release:
"I understand and respect the daunting fiscal challenge facing the Governor and legislature, and want to help craft an alternative that protects economic development for our communities most desperate for jobs. I know the Governor shares that priority, and I am confident that we can work together to find a reasonable solution," said Mayor Villaraigosa.
The governor may indeed prioritize economic development and jobs, like any good politician battling a recession, but he -- along with a growing crowd of RDA haters -- doesn't think those concerns are synonymous with preserving California's redevelopment agencies.
After the meeting on Wednesday, Brown angled his anti-RDA position as a simple matter of "the money's not there." According to the Los Angeles Times:
Striking a strident tone in an afternoon press conference, Brown called the redevelopment agencies a "piggy bank" that the state needs to crack open to fund education and local services as California grapples with a $25-billion deficit. He said shutting down the state's nearly 400 municipal redevelopment agencies is a crucial part of his budget proposal and will save $1.7 billion.
But the move is a drastic one, and Brown's message is clear: Screw the RDAs. He's well-versed in their failures, having been a backer of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency during his time as mayor there. And the agencies' continued shadiness -- for instance, the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency's strange affinity for choosing overpriced projects from the same billionaire developers in hardly blighted areas -- is no secret in Sacramento.
An old Times piece showcases Brown's jaded sense of irony:
"I like redevelopment," he said. "I didn't quite understand it, seemed kind of magical. I put a lot into the Fox Theater, got this beautiful theater. Tens of millions of dollars....
"I'm sure glad I got it built before this damn budget came out," he said to laughter from the crowd.
The mayors who attended the high-profile rendezvous today represented the nine largest cities in California:
Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles
Kevin Johnson, Sacramento
Edwin Lee, San Francisco
Miguel Pulido, Santa Ana
Jean Quan, Oakland
Chuck Reed, San Jose
Jerry Sanders, San Diego
Ashley Swearengin, Fresno
Tom Tait, Anaheim
In the state capitol, the Sacramento Bee is all over the millions in profits that its RDA rakes in under the radar.
Right here in Culver City, the City Council has done more than suggest they might transfer redevelopment funds into city coffers: They actually passed the thing. Legal? That's still up in the air, but as for L.A.'s own Brown Act-abusing attempts, Hollywood activist Bob Blue tells us he filed complaints with the District Attorney and received confirmation.
Upon first learning of their squirreliness, Brown released a statement saying: "These scarce dollars, which could be used to protect police, firefighters and teachers, should not be banked away for special projects."
Emphasis on special projects. Special enough for California Controller John Chiang to get involved this week, planning a mass audit of 18 randomly selected RDAs. He already did so last summer for the shining star of city corruption: the small L.A. County town of Bell, where the redevelopment commissioners are all hilariously, and predictably, also City Councilmembers (yes, as in, the Big Eight). We can always count on those guys to set the golden standard!
After meeting with Brown yesterday, Villaraigosa didn't look happy. No resolve to speak of. He gave a speech on the West Steps of the State Capitol -- something along the lines of "We understand the level of gravity... the magnitive of the budget cuts... but the complete elimination... would undermine the California economy."
The Contra Costa Times quotes:
"I would be negligent and accused of malfeasance if I allowed the state to decide, without me in the room, to take away $930 million for job creation," Villaraigosa said after the meeting. "For many of us, these are the only funds we have available to create new jobs."
Of course, construction jobs would still be created without the L.A. CRA -- it's not like all development will suddenly cease to exist -- they just wouldn't be credited directly to the city.
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The L.A. City Council got cold feet yesterday and put off a vote on the $930 million transfer for another two weeks. "Is it the best way forward?'' Council President Eric Garcetti asked. "I want to protect redevelopment funds, and I also see that the state is in a tough situation, and I think it asks a good question about, fundamentally, how we should be doing redevelopment in Los Angeles.'
'Maybe Villaraigosa still thinks Brown can be convinced? Doesn't look likely, via the Times:
Brown challenged the mayors to find alternative spending cuts if they want to keep redevelopment alive. "My message is: If not you, who?" Brown said.
He said the mayoral delegation was part of the coming wave of discontent with his budget, which he says is comprised of $12.5 billion in cuts and $12 billion in tax extensions.
Still believe in the CRA? Peruse the city's list of 275 must-have blight fighters in this special Weekly report.