Swanson: Don’t abolish redevelopment agencies

With the Legislature’s budget conference committee scheduled to finish its work tomorrow having finished its work late this afternoon, and with Oakland City Council having spent today in a tizzy over Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to eliminate California’s local redevelopment agencies and redirect their money to help cover the state’s budget deficit, I just had a chat with Assemblyman Sandre Swanson.

“If I was asked to vote on it today, my vote would have to be no,” Swanson, D-Alameda, said of doing away with redevelopment agencies.

Swanson said he appreciates the “refreshing, transparent truth” Brown has brought to the budget process, but while some lawmakers’ districts don’t rely heavily on redevelopment spending, his does. “I would say it’s critical to my district” for furthering affordable housing and economic development, he said, citing as an example the redevelopment of Oakland’s Fox Theater and other Uptown-area projects which sparked that neighborhood’s renaissance.

“Since redevelopment dollars have been so integrated into the city’s operations, if you were to cut it out, we would end up losing thousands of jobs in Oakland,” Swanson said. “I just don’t know how other cities would handle it, but it would be devastating for Oakland. At this point I support the mayors who went to Sacramento, the eight to 10 big-city mayors including Mayor Quan, asking for some sort of alternative to this.”

As for Brown’s proposal’s chances in the Legislature, “I don’t think it’s a clear-cut question at this point,” he said. “I think the proposal being backed by the governor certainly has the momentum, but I think Democrats and Republicans alike are hearing from their cities and most people in Sacramento are hoping there can be some kind of compromise developed.”

“I just haven’t seen any kind of progress to date on reaching this kind of deal,” he acknowledged, although a lot can still happen before it comes to floor votes. “No matter what the leadership may suggest and the party’s position may be on this, I think many of these votes have to become votes of conscience. We have to be informed by the practical impact in each of our districts.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    I wonder how many of Alameda’s or Oakland’s city employees are paid for with RDA funds.

  • Elwood

    As I recall, the number in Oakland was around 150.

  • Joe M.

    This is another example of how and why Assemblyman Swanson is shortsighted, incompetent and absolutely useless. We should be thankful that term limits will end his time in the Assembly next year. Redevelopment agencies channel property tax revenues away from schools and other public entities. They are big municipal slush funds. The “affordable housing” that is funded by redevelopment agencies is not some magnanimous gesture. It stems from the legal requirement that RDA’s must spend 20% of their revenues on affordable housing. Some of the biggest beneficiaries of RDA’s are the construction worker unions and the construction contractors that win the lucrative RDA contracts. Although RDA’s do some good, they waste millions of our tax dollars, which line the pockets of a few well-connected contractors and fat-reared labor union stooges.