De-development: Jerry Brown Steps On Some Urbanist Toes

Unlike certain former governors of California I could name, Jerry Brown has been making good on his promise to propose deep cuts in budget areas that have attained the status of sacred cows. For one thing, he wants the state to stop funding the "redevelopment" of blighted urban areas, a position that has generated some intense, if polite, pushback from urban liberals

Gov. Jerry Brown defended his controversial plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies in California, speaking at an event hosted by one of the biggest supporters of the agencies and telling them his plan is what's best for the state.

Afterward, Brown told reporters that some of the more than $1.5 billion of redevelopment projects approved by cities in recent days - essentially an end run around his proposal - may not be legal.

At a gathering for new mayors and council members hosted by the League of California Cities, which has been one of the most vocal opponents of Brown's plan, the Democratic governor said the budget cuts this year are a "zero-sum game."

"If we don't do redevelopment, then what do we do, what do we take? Do we take more from universities? Do we cut deeper into public schools that have been cut year after year?" Brown told the group, some of whose members displayed posters and buttons opposing his plan. "I think we have to, all of us, rise above our own particular perspective, get out of the comfort zones and try to think of California first."

But League of California Cities leaders at the event, where Brown received three standing ovations and brought the crowd of several hundred people to laughter multiple times, said that while they would work with the governor, they flat-out oppose his proposal.

"We've told him we're willing to work with him, we will continue to work with him, but his proposal is so draconian, it's so bad for the creation of jobs in California ... it's so contrary with so many things he wants to accomplish," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the league of cities.

I guess I could start with a crack about how all of this opposition would not be nearly as respectful and filled with "we're willing to work with him" blandishments if Brown had an (R) after his name, but I have a feeling I could say that every day for the next year.

Still, Brown is on to something, and has even managed to catch the tenor of our budget cutting times: why is it, exactly, that the state has to spend billions of dollars so that municipalities can engage in economically dubious "development" schemes? Schemes, I might add, that often involve government behaving at its worst, whether through union featherbedding, "unexpected" cost overruns, contracts to favored insiders, and Kelo-esque eminent domain seizures. All so someone like Antonio Villaraigosa can get his picture taken next to an oversized pair of scissors? No thanks.

Re-development advocates claim that these funds are well spent because they can jump start economic activity in depressed areas without the uncertainties of private financing. The redevelopment of Emeryville from a depopulated strip of warehouses to a vibrant shopping area filled with Ikeas, and the like is the classic success story that proves the rule. But couldn't Emeryville's city fathers sold some bonds, or otherwise sought private financing? Sure, but that would have meant having to work for a change. Can't have that! Other cities likely would have a hard time raising funds because so many of them are already earmarked for important endeavors like paying six figure pensions to 55-year old retired garbagemen. That's really why these guys need to the state to pay for redevelopment, they don't have the funds to do it themselves, and don't trust private enterprise to do it for them.

Thomas Sowell put it best on the issue of redevelopment: You could air-condition Hell if you spent enough money. The point isn't whether you can do it. The point is whether you should do it, especially when the people on the scene don't seem able to do it themselves.

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