California’s redevelopment agencies and the tax-increment financing scheme that created them died this month, murdered mercilessly by Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature. They had been funneling tax dollars to private developers for more than 60 years.
Under the scheme, a chunk of the tax increment within a given district (that is, the increased property taxes generated by redevelopment projects) was given to the redevelopment agency where it was subjected to little oversight or transparency. This scheme played a role in the “urban renewal” projects of the 1950s and since, projects that frequently leveled established urban neighborhoods by labeling them as “blighted” and in need of redevelopment. Neighborhoods with a large number of low-income minorities and immigrants were usually the targets – countless homes were leveled and people were displaced. Walkable neighborhoods with family-owned shops were replaced with car-oriented developments, changing the character of California’s cities for the worst.
Some redevelopment projects currently in progress will be halted and successor agencies are being appointed to pay off project debts and wind down the affairs of the more than 400 agencies. Future efforts to improve blighted areas should rise up from within those communities, and should not require doling out corporate welfare. Property tax increments will go back to where they belong, helping fund essential services including education.