May 6, 2011

California's secret government

By California's secret government

Author: Timothy Sandefur

Steven Greenhut, author of the outstanding book Abuse of Power, has an important article in the City Journal about California's secret government: the behind-the-scenes manipulations of the state's Redevelopment Agencies.

In theory, RDAs spearhead blight removal. In fact, they divert billions of dollars from traditional services, such as schools, parks, and firefighting; use eminent domain to seize property for favored developers; and run up California’s debt to pay those developers to construct projects of dubious public value, such as stadiums and big-box stores. Most Californians have long been unaware that these agencies exist. As the activist group Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform puts it, RDAs constitute an “unknown government” that “consumes 12 percent of all property taxes statewide,” is “supported by a powerful Sacramento lobby,” and is “backed by an army of lawyers, consultants, bond brokers and land developers.”

…Redevelopment project areas are supposed to expire eventually, but like most government programs, they rarely do. The agencies repeatedly extend the life of the areas and continue floating debt, managing development decisions, and spending tens of millions of dollars to pay the planners, consultants, developers, and attorneys who specialize in the redevelopment process and are an effective lobby to ensure that it never dies. The redevelopment machine has also steadily expanded its footprint. “During the early years of California’s redevelopment law, few communities established project areas and project areas typically were small—usually 10 to 100 acres,” the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office recently reported. “Over the last 35 years, however, most cities and many counties have created project areas and the size of project areas has grown—several cover more than 20,000 acres each. . . . In some counties, local agencies have created so many project areas that more than 25 percent of all property tax revenue collected in the county [is] allocated to a redevelopment agency, not the schools, community colleges, or other local governments.”

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