(December 21, 2004) -- LBReport.com believes LB's current non-elected Redevelopment Agency Board needs to go.
In our opinion, the incumbent RDA Board fired itself earlier this year when it refused multiple community pleas to include a forensic audit in a forthcoming independent study of LB Redevelopment. As a result, we expect the much ballyhooed study will end up basically an overgrown term paper.
We think at this point, LB taxpayers deserve more than term papers.
The legal purpose for Redevelopment is supposed to eliminating blight. LB Redevelopment has left much of NLB and Central LB blighted. It has shoveled huge sums of money downtown and incurred massive debts.
The current pressure for a Council takeover of Redevelopment reflects similarly inverted priorities. Earlier this year, city management pressured NLB activists and the RDA Board into acquiescing in using millions in NLB anti-blight money to build a north LBPD police facility that it previously said would be built with capital or bond funds. (City Hall's promises disappeared after Councilmembers amassed a massive deficit by fattening pensions and overspending revenues year after year).
If the Council takes over Redevelopment, it won't have to ask -- it can just take -- Redevelopment money (property tax increment that's supposed to combat blight) to pay for things City Hall should be doing with general fund money (fixing streets, sidewalks, etc.) That would free up City Hall money for more important things...like bailing out the Convention and Visitors Bureau, handing out $150,000 in free city taxpayer services for a downtown "Aquatics Festival" (both approved, without objection, by the City Council).
On top of this, LB City Hall has been using Redevelopment in a financing arrangement that, as best we can tell, resembles something out of a W.C. Fields movie.
When City Hall receives some government grants (i.e. taxpayer money), it assigns the grant to Redevelopment which (we presume) uses the taxpayer money as the grantor intended and produces a benefit within the City of Long Beach. Meanwhile, RDA creates a "debt" to City Hall for the value of the grant (that RDA promises to repay).
Get it? Not only does LB City Hall effectively get the value of the taxpayer-paid grant (administered by RDA), but it gets the grant value a second time because it's scheduled to be "repaid" to City Hall by RDA (using property tax increment).
At the same time, City Hall treats the debt owed to it by RDA -- legally a separate government entity -- as an expected payment receivable that it can (and apparently does) use to help create paper "balanced" budgets.
The real danger here is that this invites a Council-run RDA to "pay back" the money to City Hall by expanding LB Redevelopment, grabbing new property tax increment by declaring more and more neighborhoods "blighted" (consider what that designation will do to your property values) as City Hall incurs more debt (like a credit card) to float its current "debt."
LB's current RDA board has balked at some of this. Because it's an independent legal body, it can say "no." If a Council runs RDA, it can do as it pleases.
Tens of millions of dollars in grant-funded "debt" to City Hall are apparently involved. Taxpayers deserve to know who devised and approved this grant-funded "debt" creating arrangement.
How will that RDA "debt" be repaid...if not by extending the life of Redevelopment project areas or expanding blight-declaring Redevelopment into new neighborhoods?
Has any other CA city, besides LB, used this system and survived a legal challenge? Has anyone in LB officialdom got something more than an opinion to offer on whether those "debts" are legally valid?
These are not questions for some RDA-hired "independent study." They are questions that the Council needs answered now, regardless of how it proceeds on Redevelopment.
LBReport.com does not want LB Redevelopment expanded one inch, not now and not after some "independent study." (We expect some will try to use the "study" as an excuse to expand blight-declaring Redevelopment, claiming it shows how Redevelopment can be "improved.")
In our opinion, the definitive work on Redevelopment was written years ago by then-Fullerton activist, later Fullerton Mayor/Councilman, now-OC County Supervisor Chris Norby. He authored Redevelopment: The Unknown Government. A Report to the People of California, a brilliant work that cogently describes the abuses, injustices and corporate welfare accompanying Redevelopment...regardless of whether it's run by an independent board or the City Council
Of course Redevelopment claims successes. So did former Soviet apparatchiks who pointed to rockets and satellites while workers endured penury, poverty and endless "Five Year Plans."
We think a City Council intent on fighting blight would first make their city safer. Poverty doesn't cause crime...but crime always causes poverty.
Ask decent, hardworking residents of the Central Redevelopment Project area near "14th St. Park" (a street median between Magnolia and Pacific Aves.) As we recently reported, some residents told us that some of their neighbors are afraid to walk outside their doors at night. They describe a neighborhood in which City Hall is a de facto slumlord, permitting nuisance and illegal activity to emanate from city property.
That creates blight. It's about a mile north of LB's downtown area...with all those new buildings that some cite as Redevelopment's success.