The fiscal debate over redevelopment is often mischaracterized as a choice between funding schools or subsidizing ballparks. In fact, legislation to scrap redevelopment agencies is just the latest budgetary confiscation by America’s most fiscally irresponsible city—Sacramento.
Redevelopment provides monetary incentives to spur development to the great physical and monetary benefit of cities. However, a government that repeals its own economic subsidy is bound to create unintended consequences—witness the changes to the Internal Revenue Code limiting deductions for passive real estate losses and the ensuing real estate crash and S&L bailout two decades ago.
The focus on redevelopment will remain budgetary, but one of the biggest reasons to keep redevelopment is to allow our economy to grow in a way that causes the least impact on our environment.
Redevelopment stimulates construction in areas that are already environmentally tarnished, and it reduces development in pristine open space. Redevelopment is good for the environment. Eliminating redevelopment in California could cause immense harm to California’s environment or stifle an already troubled real estate development industry so badly as to add further suffering in our stagnant economy.
In addition to pulling a cruel hoax upon California’s cities—upending cities’ plans for growth and future budgets, Brown’s changes to redevelopment would cause more development on virgin land, eliminating habitat and causing more traffic, air pollution and water pollution. The impacts upon our environment would last far longer than any temporary budget plugs.
Take the city of San Diego, for example. Certain neighborhoods are nearly free from certain undesirable environmental impacts—count the number of gas stations the next time you drive through La Jolla. Wealthier communities are more pristine because they fight any and all development, particularly by abusing environmental litigation.
Try to build a student facility on an ugly median across from UCSD. Meet the community opposition armed with the California Environmental Quality Act. No matter how meritless their purported environmental impacts, the resulting delays and costs will kill projects. Want to build a condo on the corner of 6th and Upas—one that would block the views of a neighboring condo? No matter how baseless and trumped up the environmental challenges are, this type of project will be litigated until bankruptcy.
San Diego’s “City of Villages” concept was based upon mixed-use communities where people could walk to work. No matter how environmentally beneficial this planning would be, the addition of a biotech facility becomes impossible when it meets opposition so adamant about protecting the environment (the number of cars driving through the neighborhood) they can scare the local school district to bring trumped-up environmental claims.
San Diego’s less affluent communities are the past and present home to heavy industry, bearing the use and storage of toxic substances. The homes are not the only part of these neighborhoods that are “blighted”—so is the soil.
Developing on such land is like tap dancing across a minefield. Without redevelopment, builders would avoid projects built upon land bearing countless environmental risks and requiring an inordinate replacement of infrastructure.
So where can we build homes and offices for the next million people who will call San Diego home? One must build far enough from the well-funded NIMBYs and the legacy pollution of past industrial sites.
Stand upon a crest at Torrey Hills Park. Look west and find inspiration in the beautiful coast. Look east and witness unrepentant land rape. Drive down the 56 and try to count the number of homes molded with the same stucco shell. Eliminating redevelopment means that the next million San Diegans will live in homes carved into the rolling hills of open space. Eliminating redevelopment means that blighted neighborhoods will remain toxic hotspots for longer and that more San Diegans will drive to work— and drive farther.
More storm water runoff will carry their brake pad residue, motor oil and fertilizer into our ocean, spoiling our coastline—this region’s most valuable asset. Paradoxically, without redevelopment, our economy and environment will suffer so badly that the next million people might not move to San Diego.