RIP RDA?

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.

About Cheri Rae

Cheri Rae is the senior editor and columnist. Known for her civic activism and insightful chronicles of the local scene, Cheri has a hard-won reputation for writing about issues that other Santa Barbara-based writers are reluctant to tackle. Cheri shared her unique citizen’s eye view of the region as a columnist for the Santa Barbara Daily Sound. In 2009, her work was recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which awarded her first-place honors in the Best Newspaper Column category.

39 Responses to RIP RDA?

  1. el_smurfo January 4, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    Large projects such as Paseo Nuevo should always be both paid for and approved by the local taxpayers. The slush fund aspect of RDA funds naturally leads to waste and fraud because, after all, it’s “free money”, right?

  2. Anonymous January 4, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    A lot of good things came from the RDA but the waste around the state must have been enormous. Spending for spending’s sake. The monopoly money is gone and now government will have to work more like the private sector. Good luck!

  3. anon. January 4, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    RDA money was from the taxpayers, the property taxpayers, and each project was approved by the RDA, that is, the elected councilmembers in their roles as Redevelopment Agency members/commissioners. Note the “elected”: the public has had input possibilities via the elections, as is so for all council actions.

    To see what the RDA has been funding in SB, check the 12/13 City Council agenda, item 10, the 3rd quarter of 2011: among others: West Beach Pedestrian and West Downtown Improvements, Carrillo Rec Center, Fire Department Admin.; Design Phase for Plaza de la Guerra, Chase Palm Park Restroom Renovation, Artist Workspace; Planning phase for MIssion Creek flood control, etc. All these were approved by our _elected_ officials. …The fault, dear SBV, is not in the RDA but in ourselves.

    There is, in fact, better oversight by voters/taxpayers of the Council than there is of the schools, School Department. Besides which, a city is more than its schools, especially SB where school population has been dropping even as salaries and expenditures rise. Yes, education is extremely important but so are other municipal needs, demands, wishes. As an example: Those children who live in slum-like conditions, as old town Goleta, for instance, an area hoped to be redeveloped with RDA monies, are more affected by that than having more computers and higher-paid teachers in the classroom.

    In the same way Prop 13 directed local monies, local control to Sacramento so this decision will give the state more power with our monies going to public safety (prison guards, prisons) and education rather than what our elected officials (and we, via our votes) choose.

    • 1sbsurvivor January 4, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      The question remains as to what expenditures the State will determine most necessary, and where our ‘Representatives’ decide where to use this new money to get themselves reelected. Don’t hold your breath that it will improve our schools.

  4. Have a question January 4, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Wasn’t there a mandated earthquake retrofit back in the ’90s in the downtown area? Was the RDA involved in that? Wasn’t it post-retrofit that the landlords began raising the rents and local businesses began giving way to the chain stores?

  5. Boycott Boy January 4, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Careful… You’re in what Dale Francisco calls “centralizer” territory. Of course, anyone in government or media that doesn’t get the orders directly from him must be pinko commie you know what. Thanks SB conservatives for voting him back in… I’m sure his blame everyone but himself antics will keep us entertained for quite a while!

  6. William Munny January 4, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    This is by far some of the best news to come out of 2011. The local RDA may have done some good at one time. However, the local corridor that was supposed to have been the source of RDA funds long ago had most of the actual structural decay and blight removed.

    In recent years the local RDA funds were being used as a slush fund in conjunction with the SB Housing Authority to purchase properties throughout Santa Barbara and turn them into housing for the homeless. Their logic? We’ll put housing for the homeless in other parts of the City so that the homeless are removed from the downtown corridor. How has that worked out for Santa Barbara? The homelessness problem downtown is as bad as its ever been. The more programs we create for the homeless, the more attractive of a destination we become. The negligent policies of the SB Housing Authority that have been funded by the RDA set-aside funds have actually created new pockets of problems with homeless people in other areas of town. In effect, they’ve simply spread the decay and blight to other areas of town.

    Compounding the problem is the fact that these new homeless shelters no longer generate any property tax revenues for the City. This is the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen with the expenditure of RDA funds. The very justification of the program is that property tax revenues will eventually rise once the urban renewal has taken place and attracted more business to the area…..thus making it a net gain for the taxpayers. In recent years, the local expenditure of RDA funds by the SB Housing Authority has managed to achieve just the opposite effect.

    With luck, these funds will be properly redistributed to back into education and other local services and kept out of the hands of building a housing empire for Rob Pearson and the rest of the SB Housing Authority that they then attempt to use to justify an increase to their already overbloated budget.

  7. Anonymous January 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Nice to see some intelligent commentary!

  8. SB Citizen January 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    We currently subsidize 17% of the housing units in Santa Barbara. These are properties that are off of the tax roles. Shouldn’t we be electing candidates who will shrink that number rather than expand it?

  9. Tu-fer January 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    If 17% get city subsidized housing benefits, you have 17% of city households ready, willing and able to keep voting for “progressives”.

    Past progressive city councils admitted cleaning blighted neighborhoods would eliminate affordable-by-blight housing. This gentrification would risk loss of progressive voters.

    City additionally pushed “workforce housing” but dedicated primarily for public union employees only, so they could live and vote in greater numbers within the city to keep this self-serving political payoff scam going. Buying permanent progressive votes with your tax dollars.

    Take the blinders off, folks.

    • MirrorMirror January 5, 2012 at 7:33 am #

      When money is “free” and not earned, devious intrigue is always the consequence.

      Doctors hated Medicare until they found a way to skim billions out of it for themselves, yet remain unaccountable for failing US health results.

      Blighted neighborhoods loved RDA money until city councils took over and made it their re-election slush fund dispensing political favors rather than carrying out blight eradication policy.

      Public employee unions bargain for unsustainable benefits and then scream they are getting starved, when declining tax revenues go first to pay off those very same bargained for benefits.

      Voters have to be a lot smarter in future elections. It is not the politicians fault. It is the voters fault who put and kept those politicians in office. If all you do is vote for those that give the most goodies to you, then stop complaining about someone else’s political Lady Bountiful who doing exactly the same thing for her constituents too .. except this time at your expense.

      Few can claim greed does not motivate almost every corner of their own existence which is what made the Occupy movement so laughable.

  10. SBBeachcomber January 5, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    So Paseo Nuevo was built with RDA money, yet is owed by a private company, not the City of SB. How does that work? Do we get property taxes from it? Seems like a bit of slight of hand here.

    • MirrorMirror January 5, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      The city runs on retail sales taxes which is why shopping malls and auto malls are good business and why brining in more people to live, vote and shop is good revenue return for city staff.

      The last thing city staff wants is slow-growth. And a degraded downtown – which puts them in conflict with utopian progressives who feel better giving handouts to bums that in turn drove away downtown retail sales.

      Consequently you are seeing mix-up this getting acted out with the current make-up of the city council – some pragmatic and pro-business, but anti-city staff and more government services. Some utopian progressives who have tapped the city till almost into bankruptcy who now have to become pro-business.

      The past several city councils got out of balance with too much city services growth with in turn killed downtown retail and support for more city union demands. Balance is getting re-set as we speak. Interesting times.

      Will Murrillo become the swing vote abdicated by Bendy White who sold out to progressive utopians but presented himself to the voters as a pragmatic centrist? Breaking the employee union stranglehold on the city council was the best thing in the last election, regardless of who got elected.

      Independent centrists will serve all concerned far better than keeping employee unions on both sides of the bargaining table which this city flirted with for far too long while decimating city reserves and fortunes. Voters got smart. Shows they are awake and watching.

      Prediction: Bendy White will be a one-term council member. The pendulum will swing once again.

  11. Billy January 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Yada yada yada.. please explain how throwing more money at kids these days will make them smarter? I understood when we were kids, you needed money to buy books. Kids these days have the internet, which has a wealth of free knowledge. ( and don’t give me the runaround that kids can’t afford internet..there is libraries, phones, cable, and web browsers right in their play stations ) Please show how education cuts are directly responsible with our education problem ( not obesity, diet, adhd, short attention span world around us ) not to mention local immigration language problems dragging down the pace of where kids should be.

  12. Tu-fer January 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    All studies today show money doesn’t make a difference. Demands for more money comes from the teachers unions. Smaller classrooms didn’t make any difference either. Another demand from the teachers unions to create more union members. Latest pitch now is for pre-kindergarten – more teachers, more union members and more state education money down the drain.

    If First Five who has been spending billions of tobacco tax dollars on California pre-schools can’t produce results, why will adding one more layer of union education workers do any thing more than feather-bed a failing system with more burdens tax payers do not want?

    Vote smart next time. Starve out the public emplolyee union influence in this state. You can do this with the ballot box because those in Sacramento right now are not going to come to our rescue. We put the yeehaws up there. Now it is time to turn them out. Please next time do not replace good people who are there with more union fronted candidates.

    • William Munny January 6, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      While I completely agree with you on the need for pension reform and the bloated demands of the teachers’ union, I believe you are wrong about the impact of smaller classrooms. Over the course of my educational experiences I was in large classrooms, small classrooms and received one-on-one instruction. The quality of the learning environment was almost always superior in the smaller settings. You can ask questions, get more feedback, mistakes get corrected faster, etc. I don’t have any scientific studies to back up my beliefs on the subject but anecdotal evidence certainly seems to support the positive impact of smaller classrooms. Obviously the quality of the teacher has a big impact as well, irrespective of the size of the classroom.

      How you compensate the teachers needed to staff smaller classrooms is an entirely different issue altogether. However, that issue doesn’t drive the determination of whether or not the underlying concept is sound.

  13. DollySense January 6, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    The reason we don’t see results even though we are throwing more and more money at public services is because that money gets sucked into the gapping maw of public employee pension benefits so we are paying more and more for people who are no longer working for us.

    Leaving less and less for present services which is what we notice most — yet are being continually asked to pay more for those very same fewer services.

    Public employee pension reform is critical. Today we pay taxes to support two people, but only one of them is actually working for us. The other ones are living on the retirement money we are spending on them.

    Public employees are paid very well. Convert their very generous pension benefits on top of their very generous salaries to (1) defined contribution plans similar to private industry and (2) participate only in social security or its equivalent as the only retirement benefit to paid with public monies. Anything beyond that is the responsibility of the employee and not the taxpayer.

    • William Munny January 6, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Well said.

    • Sarah January 6, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Not all public employees have generous salaries, but you make good points

  14. CutToChase January 6, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Pouring endless tax dollars into the insatiable sponge of government worker pensions and their endlessly increasing health insurance premiums is the most critical problem our state budget faces. Nothing is even a close second.

  15. Duh! January 6, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Word of the day: “chi-chi-fication”

  16. Occupy This Thought January 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    ALL public employees have generous salaries, benefits, pensions, job security, perks and paid days off. Their unions do right by them and the elected officials they buy with their union dues.

    However, voters caught on the nation’s taxpayers have been getting fleeced. Too many elected officials are picking taxpayers back pockets, so they can feather their own.

    Wall Street greed never resonated with voters, because more day to day encounters take place with incompetent public servants than with Wall Street bankers. Occupy won no new fans for the union bosses who fronted this movement. The unions misdirected attempt to foment class envy warfare failed.

    Now that we learned what we have been paying public workers, when one dares to say this amount is not “all that generous” just proves proves how greedy, out of touch and arrogant a public servant class we have let get created.

    Ballot initiatives to watch out for in the next elections: (1) Stop draining tax payer dollars directly into public employee union bosses coffers. (2) Convert state legislature to part time; not full time. (3) One more demand to balance the unsustainable state budget with money borrowed from taxpayers.

    This is just the beginning. Voters will stop the union political stranglehold bankrupting our state.

  17. Occupy This Thought January 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    ALL public employees have generous salaries, benefits, pensions, job security, perks and paid days off. Their unions do right by them and the elected officials they buy with their union dues.

  18. el_smurfo January 6, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    There appears to be something wrong with the comment submission process because mine disappear for a period before showing up as well.

  19. ok January 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Thanks smurf, I feel better now.

  20. Bleedout January 7, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    SEIU units and Firefighters join with Micky and Dick Flacks to host a fund-raising party for Cathy Murillo. Invitations are out with Cathy’s hand-written approval. The corruption of an independent city council person begins.

    This is how voters get bad government no matter how they try to prevent it. A city council person lets herself get bought by special interests groups and you get another useless Bendy White, when you though you had voted for ethics and principles.

    Why has government become dysfunctional? Take look right now to see how this happens. Taking favors from public employee unions when you are going to be later bargaining with them over salaries, benefits and perks.

    Cathy ran as an independent. Got voted in as an independent. Voters rejected the clear unions hacks Falcone and Schwartz in the last city council election. Now within mere weeks, Murillo caves in and sells her independence. Don’t do it Cathy. Look what happened to Bendy White when he fell into their clutches.

    • anonymous January 7, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Cathy ran as a straight union-bought Democrat. Where were you at during the election?

    • clam January 8, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      How about printing a copy of that invitation? Hard to believe it’s so, that she would be out raising money just before beginning a full-time/full pay (with benefits) job?

      And I agree: those who accept/have accepted money from public employee unions should _not_ participate in negotiating those employees’ salaries. It’s a very clear conflict of interest and, when done, one more reason for the public to despair of our government which too often is representative only of themselves.

      • Editor January 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

        A Viewer sent in a copy of the invitation and we’ll publish it shortly.

  21. Bleedout January 7, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    Voters: do not put public employee union apologists on both sides of the bargaining table. This is how you get and how you perpetuate dysfunctional governance. Such union-purchased politicians should be required to recuse themselves when it comes to collective bargaining with those same public employee unions.

    In this case, city Firefghters and SEIU contracts should be off the table for Cathy Murillo. Better yet is a running column on donations received from public unions and contract negotiation votes. Put a little 4th Estate sunshine on this.

    Sure this info has been “disclosed”, but not in any way a mere mortal can track it. Surely someone in the Fourth Estate can come up with an “app” that can pull this disparate information together: Campaign contribution disclosure forms and contract negotiation votes.

  22. Martin January 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    I agree. I am a public employee, and my benefits kick ass. Finally now that the housing bubble burst and you had to sell your porsche after your stocks crashed in the dot com meltdown several years ago.. i can finally call you a loser! Finally us government employees are the target of envy and jealousy. I give up on arguing that I have it bad, living in SB, scraping by month to month to make rent. Thanks, you made me feel great! So when I walk by your whining ass in the occupy hippy camp, I will walk proud, and look down on your loser ass for once in my 17 year public service. For others that treat me in appreciation I will continue to work hard and serve.

  23. Duh! January 7, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Voters: do not put corporate apologists on both sides of the review and decisionmaking table. This is how you get and how you perpetuate dysfunctional governance. Such corporate-purchased politicians should be required to recuse themselves when it comes to reviewing and deciding on permits and contracts with those same corporations that are asking the city to issue them. Duh.

  24. Bleedout January 8, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Silly “corporation” bashing riff off prior post. May I repeat and keep this germane to public employee unions. They should not be represented on both sides of the bargaining table. One side for the public employee union boss, which is both legal and appropriate.

    But the other side of the public employee union bargaining table should be independent decision makers and not elected officials beholden by major campaign contributions via badly disguised union employee fronts such as XYZ for “better government” or “friends” of XYZ whose only purpose it to buy a new majority of public union friendly legislators who will ink the next unsustainable contract.

    One of the worst unintended consequences of term limits is now those public employee union friendly legislators or city council people are long gone when the brutal consequences of their poor decisions kick into effect.

    Voters: do not put public employee union sponsored or endorsed candidates on both sides of the bargaining table. Learn what clever campaign contribution fronts they use – and ask yourself who really has the money to send out tons of glossy brochures, make rob-calls and field get out the vote campaigns hustling every vote in resident dense precincts like Isla Vista for the union label.

    In today’ elections you can get all your voting information from low cost websites. You do not need to have the unions continue to litter your mailbox with their very expensive and self-serving campaign glossy hype showing beaches, dogs, sports coats slung casually over the shoulder and/or the ubiquitous family gathering and smiling progeny. Look for the union label on those campaign brochures instead and make the mental note to NOT vote for that candidate.

  25. Bleedout January 8, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Cathy Murillo Invitation to “join a celebration of her election” Jan 8, 2012 which is two days before she is even sworn in.

    “Hosts, Sponsors and Special Guests” include Santa Barbra City Firefighters Association PAC, Service International Union (SEIU) Local 620 PAC and Service International Union (SEIU) Local 721 PAC (partial list)

    Host: $500 Sponsor $250 Guest $100

    Begging the question to have such a fund-raiser at this early stage in her brand new political career:

    Did Cathy run up campaign debts that now need to be paid off showing poor fiscal management skills?

    Or, is Cathy building up a re-election war chest that compromises all of her future decisions from this point onwards even before she is even sworn in.

    Cathy, I was hoping for something so much better from you.

  26. Duh! January 9, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    But the other side of the corporate bargaining table should be independent decision makers and not elected officials beholden by major campaign contributions via badly disguised corporation funding funnel fronts such as ABC for “better government” or “friends” of ABC whose only purpose it to buy a new majority of corporation friendly legislators who will ink the next unsustainable contract from the government with friendly terms for the same corporation. Duh.

  27. Bleedout January 9, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Okay, we got it last time. Inserting “corporation ” in the place of union and repeating someone else’s posts is brilliant. I think you have dazzled us now quite sufficiently. Duh?

  28. Mikey likes it January 10, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Occupy’s signature feature was the mindless repetition chant called a mic check. Others call it being Saul Alinksy’s bratty spawn. Which would be playing to their strengths and papering over their deficiencies.

  29. Purple Rules August 12, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    There are differences in Dem and GOP stances on issues, but even organized labor benefits from both sides of the fence in approximately equal measure. Democrats may favor organized labor, but Republicans favor more cops, more firefighters, increased funding for prisons and drug enforcement and court-ordered drug treatment, etc. Conservatives in California haven’t gotten the word that alternative sentencing, education, drug treatment, job training and re-entry programs are tough-on-crime conservative programs, and buy the prison guard union propaganda that these are policies promoted by upper-middle class ACLU liberals who live in neighborhoods where it’s reasonable to expect to find your car in the morning when it’s parked on the street, with wheels and stereo even. ACLU and other liberal groups have criticized CCPOA’s negative impact on the correctional system for quite a while, but lock-em-up Republicans keep them in the money, while criticizing liberals for the unsustainable public employee pension burden.
    Randy Rowse, whose wife was a member of court-ordered drug treatment provider CADA’s board before he was on its Fighting Back steering committee, had no problem taking a DelaVina property off the tax roles and renting it at a rate that is a partial gift to CADA, using low-income housing funds laundered through RDA to increase income to this multimillion dollar nonprofit. The primary source of the city’s income is property tax, not sales tax, but we don’t hear that from no-growth, no jobs, no local business advocates on either side. We really don’t have red and blue policies, we need to acknowledge purple politics.

  30. Government for the People, not Government Employees August 12, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Public employee unions should be banned from contributing to political campaigns and endorsements, with watchdog oversight to prevent union representatives from doing so as private citizens.

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