Loss of redevelopment agencies could slow development, city fears
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to dissolve California’s redevelopment agencies could stall efforts to redevelop Alameda Point and many other areas of Alameda, city officials fear.
“There will be an impact on Alameda,” said Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott, who said the city is surveying its existing projects and waiting on more details from the state to determine how deep the impact could be.
Ott said the city is also trying to figure out how the proposal would impact the city’s ability to pay its existing redevelopment debt. She said the city’s redevelopment agencies could continue to pay off existing bonds for redevelopment projects. But whether they will be able to cover other obligations – like a court settlement with Boatworks developer Francis Collins that promises future tax revenues to help fund that development – is less clear.
“How debt gets defined is important,” Ott said.
Roughly a third of Alameda is in a designated redevelopment zone. Alameda Point, Park and Webster streets and the Northern waterfront are all considered redevelopment areas, and past redevelopment projects have included Marina Village, the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex restoration and parking garage and the Bayport housing project. The designation allows the city to use future property tax revenues to subsidize development projects in those areas.
Proponents say the funds help jump-start revenue-producing developments that might have never happened, while opponents say that redevelopment puts money in private developers’ pockets at the expense of police, schools and other local services.
“I agree with critics who say that if projects are financially sound, private investment will fund them, and they don’t require taxpayer subsidy,” said David Howard, a longtime, local critic of the financing scheme.
In his January 10 budget announcement, Brown said that while he thinks redevelopment “has done some important things,” it has also forced the state to backfill property taxes used to fund redevelopment efforts.
“What we’re doing here is spending money at the local level that the state doesn’t have. So we want to take that money and leave it at the local level for the purposes that it was historically intended,” Brown said.
Howard, who has also criticized what he believes is a lack of oversight of redevelopment agencies, argued that eliminating them would free up millions of dollars in taxes for the city and the school district.
“The point is that it would free up local property taxes to fund local schools, and require less money from the State of California, which increasingly doesn’t have it,” Howard said.
Alameda Unified’s chief business officer, Robert Shemwell, said Brown’s proposal could increase the district’s share of each property tax dollar from 37 cents to 42 cents. But he said it’s not yet clear if the state would reduce the amount of money it pays out for schools.
Shemwell said he also expects the proposal to be challenged. “This probably isn’t going to be enacted as quickly as what one would think or hope,” Shemwell said.
School board trustee Mike McMahon said he’s not optimistic that local schools will see more money from the proposal, and Ott said she’s also not sure cities will get more direct funding.
“The impact to school funding will non-existence unless they change something,” McMahon said. “Property tax and redevelopment monies for Alameda would still not cover the state’s obligation (to fund schools), so the bottom line for Alameda is, no additional funding dollars. All it would do is reduce the state portion that they pay for Alameda’s students.”
Ott said she thinks Alameda Point is the “poster child” for why redevelopment exists. The cost of rebuilding roads, sewers and other infrastructure there was last estimated at more than $650 million. A quarter of any housing that would be built there must be affordable to low-income residents, and 20 percent of the future tax revenues collected would be paid out to support that.
“Every pro forma we’ve ever had at Alameda Point has assumed a significant amount of public financing to make that project work. Without it, it will be a tougher nut to crack,” Ott said. SunCal’s plan for the Point, for instance, relied on $212 million in public financing.
She said the money has funded streetscape improvements in Alameda’s business districts and other fix-it projects.
Still, Ott said projects like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s proposed second site, which the lab is now soliciting potential locations for, could also help catalyze development at the Point, without relying on redevelopment funding.
“It makes getting them even more important to be able to jump start and create value at Alameda Point, and to create a market out there,” Ott said.