Hot Topic Reset, closing in on a Popular Post. Originally published January 4.
Column by Cheri Rae
Some of the best news of the year came at the very end: The California Supreme Court ruled on December 29th to eliminate the state’s 400-some Redevelopment Agencies. The consequence of that action could send and send billions of dollars back into schools, courts and other local services.
As a parent, I was momentarily hopeful, even downright delighted over the possibility that a ready source of funding might be once again available so that our students might receive quality public educations they deserve—like the one I enjoyed so many years ago. I even started thinking that our educators might be treated like true professionals instead of enduring atrocious cutbacks, pink-slips and need to moonlight to make ends meet.
And I was cheered as a citizen of a city who knows too much about the endless amounts of RDA money that have poured into pet projects of most favored nonprofits, developers, architects and bureaucrats—while obviously blighted conditions have remained ignored and untouched.
But, alas, it’s not so simple.
The ruling requires something called Oversight Boards to manage the shutdown of each individual Redevelopment Agency—which has the potential to add another layer of bureaucracy to the distribution of tax dollars at the local level. And costly litigation is sure to follow.
All that tells me no one is getting anything very soon.
Surely the RDA did some good in Santa Barbara—providing low-income housing for deserving individuals and repair of some special buildings in Santa Barbara. My favorite was the recent renovation of the Carrillo Recreation Center, a well-used and much-loved community resource.
But in my mind, Paseo Nuevo—which was the biggest RDA project ever—was hardly the best. With nearly 100 percent turnover in original chain-store tenants, it drove the destruction of far too many local mom-and-pop establishments and led the charge for the chi-chi-fication of Santa Barbara.
I still remember being forced out of the Fithian Building during construction, due to the noise, dirt and congestion as the mall took over downtown. The number of small publishers and other creative types who suddenly had to dig deep to afford rising rents in this town effectively ended an industry that had flourished here for years.
It may have been an unintended consequence, but to all those who were forced to leave town as a result, redevelopment meant relocation—and we ended up losing many fine citizens who had contributed mightily to the local economy, and benefitted the local community. They were forced to take their business elsewhere when redevelopment decisions made in City Hall made it impossible for them to stay.
Was the RDA worth it? Depends a lot on who you are—and whether those dollars flowed into your pockets or simply left them empty.