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The Future of Redevelopment Debate

Untitled from SPUR on Vimeo.

Early this year Governor Jerry Brown shocked state and local leaders with his proposal to eliminate all of California’s 425 redevelopment agencies. Since then, debate has raged in the press over the ramifications of shuttering these agencies. While the future of San Francisco’s own redevelopment areas is in question (Transbay, Treasure Island, Hunters Point), similar questions arise across the state.

On Thursday, March 3, SPUR and the Bay Citizen brought together Fred Blackwell of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning to argue the merits and liabilities of eliminating redevelopment agencies.

Fred Blackwell began by acknowledging redevelopment’s contentious history and mixed-record of achievement, but he insisted that well-functioning redevelopment agencies are essential to economic growth, sustainable development and social justice, pointing to successful projects in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Yerba Buena and Hunter’s Point. Blackwell maintained redevelopment funds have been crucial in convincing developers to take on the steeper costs of building in those areas, and the payoff has been revitalization, job creation and the redirection of suburban sprawl back into the urban core.

Karen Chapple commended Blackwell for his effectiveness in leading the San Francisco Redevelopment agency, but speculated that “San Francisco’s may be the only good redevelopment agency out there.” By contrast, she said, most redevelopment agencies lack oversight and are riddled with redundancies, inefficiency and corruption.  Many spend public funds overwhelmingly on administrative and planning and personnel salaries without showing results. Even agencies with the best of intentions don’t generally pay for themselves, Chapple argued. They don’t spur sustained growth and end up, in effect, simply subsidizing developers—“the last group that needs the aid of public funds.” Chapple concluded that there are much stronger economic arguments for investing in education and social programs.

In one of the most emotional moments of the night, Blackwell lamented that the statewide debate “has been framed as redevelopment vs. social services, while the jails remain fully funded.”

Ironically, earlier in the day on March 3, the conference committee in Sacramento had voted 6-4 to eliminate redevelopment agencies. The fate of redevelopment is now part of the negotiations between Governor Brown and Republicans over the entire budget package.

Note: “The Future of Development” was the first in an ongoing series of “Debates Worth Having” hosted jointly by SPUR and the Bay Citizen. Register here for the next debate “The Pros and Cons of Saltworks ” to be held at the SPUR Urban Center on March 29.



Karen Chapple posted her summary of the event here.