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Rede-what now?

Submitted by on 1, July 21, 2008 – 7:45 amNo Comment

Last week we posted an item on the City Council’s plan to ask voters to okay an increase in the property transfer tax, and a fascinating debate over the value of the redevelopment process erupted in the comments section. (Does calling redevelopment fascinating make me a nerd? Wait, don’t answer that.) Here’s how redevelopment works: A city has property that its leaders may consider blighted – think crumbling, vacant storefronts or, say, a certain Superfund site that encompasses a third of our Island city – that they would like to see put to more productive use. But this property, with all its problems, isn’t as attractive to a developer as site without them. So what’s a city to do? Declare the place a redevelopment area, subsidize new development by issuing bonds, and then use the tax dollars generated by it to pay those bills, under the redevelopment scenario. Perhaps not surprisingly, some people are a wee bit uncomfortable with this system, because they’re not too keen on subsidizing for-profit businesses and because they don’t like the fact that city councils (acting as redevelopment agencies, a common second hat for them to wear) can issue millions of dollars in bonds without asking voters first. They fear this is a system ripe for abuse, and there’s certainly precedent for that (think slum clearance in the 1960s; Chicago’s city government has also been accused of abusing its redevelopment powers). And they question whether the subsidies are truly necessary to make new development happen. But on the other side of this debate is a legitimate question: Is it worth it for the city to spend money to turn a truly blighted property into something that could serve its residents and perhaps ultimately channel money into the city’s coffers – property some believe would, in the real world, remain blighted otherwise? The city made the controversial decision to use redevelopment money to finance the rehab of what is now the Alameda Theatre, and folks are still pretty divided about whether they made the right choice. Guess it’s fair to say that development at Alameda Point will provoke the same concerns? Anyway, if you want to get down to the nitty gritty on this one, the comments laying out all the issues around redevelopment (including the intriguing suggestion that the city set up a citizen—led watchdog group to make sure officials don’t abuse their redevelopment powers) is here.

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