Terry Jensen
Common Sense / Opinion
A continuing series

Put Redevelopment In Council's Hands, Make LB Elected Officials Accountable (For A Change)

(March 9, 2011) -- While following the spirited debate over Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to take over near $2.0 billion in Redevelopment revenue, I was wondering what the boys and girls on the 13th floor in Long Beach City Hall were thinking.

With their Redevelopment golden goose about to fly away to Sacramento, are they fretting over losing liberally defined "blight fighting programs" or is it the loss of millions they get annually from RDA to prop up our ravaged General Fund that has them in a tizzy?

Given that almost 60% of the approximately $70 million in annual net tax increment the RDA receives is spent on infrastructure maintenance and repair along with new police and fire stations, city personnel and "service" charges, no wonder LB City Hall is worried.

It is important to note that for every dollar the city gets trom the RDA, the City has an extra dollar to help prop up its ravaged General Fund budget.

Candidly, I'm not a fan of how the RDA is managed and "blight" fighting funds are used and I don’t like the fact that the Mayor and senior city management have effective control over how the money is spent, but putting "our" money into the hands of Governor Moonbeam is a far worse proposition.

So, if we are fortunate and we get to keep our tax increment revenue I am strongly in support of changing the way the project areas are managed.

We should do away with the Mayor-appointed and controlled RDA Board, staff the Project Area Committees with professionals and place control into the hands of the Mayor and City Council.

At present, no one is accountable to voters. RDA Boardmembers aren't answerable to voters. The RDA Executive Director isn't elected voters, nor is the staff.

AND the Council can escape criticism since they aren't involved in the management or planning of the RDA. THIS MUST CHANGE.

Yes, I know the Mayor and Council have screwed up most of what they touch, but at least they will be accountable to voters who currently have no control over the RDA Board or the ineffective Project Area Committees which generally rubber stamp what senior staff wants.

We must have local voter control over how our tax increment money is spent in Long Beach and remember why we have Redevelopment in the first place. It wasn't created to act as safety net to make up for irresponsibly managed city budgets. Redevelopment was created to provide blight fighting property tax funds to cities, taxes that would normally remain in the hands of the County and State.

The Redevelopment Act was passed to give cities a stable source of funding and the methods to support programs that would eliminate blight in neighborhoods, revitalize blighted commercial and retail corridors and invest in opportunities that would lead to the creation of good paying jobs.

The RDA had a simply stated and noble mission that, if judiciously followed, could improve neighborhoods, create jobs, increase property tax revenue and increase sales tax revenue.

Unfortunately Long Beach, in my opinion, has corrupted the original intent of redevelopment by spending a vastly disproportionate amount of RDA funds on public works projects. For example, in the last 10 years there hasn't been a single major commercial, residential or retail redevelopment project north of Del Amo while almost $200 million has been spent on new streets, curbs, gutters, medians, parks and a police station.

Although an independent study of LB Redevelopment some years ago recommended a balance of tax increment producing projects and community favored uses (that might not produce tax increment), it's hard to argue that delivering virtually no major projects north of Del Amo and spending Redevelopment funds for mainly routine infrastructure maintenance and public works projects is somehow balanced.

In this area, Redevelopment's massive "investment" hasn't created a single sustainable job, created a single penny of sales tax, created meaningful tax increment or removed true blight.

And the City and the RDA have an absolutely appalling record of achievement for development and Redevelopment. One doesn't have to look deep or far to illustrate this lack of ability, judgment and planning prowess. The Queen Mary has cost the city tens of millions, the Aquarium requires approximately $5,000,000 in annual subsidies. The Downtown mall was so badly designed it had to be torn down. And the "Pike" project is in my view an architectural and planning embarrassment with vacant storefronts to this day.

Let the Mayor and Council take over the RDA. This will make them accountable to the voters and allow them to be rewarded for their successes and punished for their missteps.

Mr. Jensen is a former member of the LB Redevelopment Agency Board

Previously on Common Sense by Terry Jensen (continuing series):

  • No. 5: Suppose Our City Officials Had Applied These Efforts To Assure World Class Kroc Center Instead Of For This, This & This

  • No. 4: Council Majority Either Didn't Know, Or Knew But Didn't Disclose, Amount Of Taxpayer Dollars Potentially Up In Smoke On Med MJ Vote

  • No. 3: City Hall & Its Boosters Created Budget Mess (Quit Blaming Recession); Proposed Proportional Cuts Don't Prioritize; Council Needs To Define Core Items & Cut Others

  • No. 2: Costs vs. Benefits: Council's Costlier-Than-Necessary Seawall Fix = Decaying Belmont Pier & Other Shoreline Assets

  • No. 1: Santa, Call LB City Hall: Taxpayer Leased Vacant Bldg. (New Home To Daisy Lane Xmas Displays) Invites Annual Public Review of All City Owned/Leased Properties And Zero-Based Budget

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