There has been much discussion on this blog, and elsewhere in California, about the state government’s so-called raid on redevelopment funds to help balance the budget. A couple of weeks back, Dan Walters, the longtime Sacramento Bee columnist, weighed in, pouncing on local redevelopment agencies (San Jose’s is one of the biggest) as the epitome of waste, and touting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to take $228 million a year from redevelopment agencies.
Many associate me with the burst of redevelopment spending that rebuilt our Downtown in the ’80s, but my first familiarity with redevelopment came much earlier, in meetings that I went to in my teens. At that time, my father and many owners of small businesses were attempting to fight off a government Leviathan that was condemning properties, re-routing streets, savaging historic buildings, and destroying the heart of our city. Yep, that was my introduction to the big “R.” My father and so many others fought it back then, and hated its very name. And they were right.
Much was done wrong in San Jose in those days. By the time I became mayor, they had harnessed the vast riches of Rincon, the unassisted redevelopment zone to the north, and hitched it to Downtown’s star. But what many of the critics fail to notice is the simple fact that our highways, our low-to-moderate income housing, our museums, our theatres, our hotels and Convention Center, our Arena, our regional park and even our flood control system—things the citizens of San Jose had long wanted—were all created with the financial strength of that much maligned agency.
Can you think of many other city departments that have given you the bang for the buck that this department has given, and made more ordinary citizens happy? Projects that have expanded our tax base and provided much for our people were built with the help of redevelopment. Until then, all had been a pipedream for much of our lives.
It would be fair to say that a lot of projects did not turn out well. Okay—that is correct. But many exceeded our wildest hopes. Like the Tech, and the HP Pavilion. Only the most blind of critics would fail to note that, and be in a bit of awe at their successes.
In addition, with bonded monies, the money we have to spend on local projects today is ten times what the mere tax increment monies are, and tenfold in these tough times is quite an increase.
It is incumbent on the critics, as they exult in the taking of these funds by the feckless legislators in Sacramento, to remember that only the willpower, creativity and entrepreneurship of local government is able to make the investments and do the work necessary to move our city and state forward.
Those who gleefully savage this critical financial tool hurt every citizen of San Jose, and leave us naked to the darkening downturn in our economy.