The Death and Life of Redevelopment in California

Kicking off their new long-form Forefront initiative, Josh Stephens writes for Next American City on the killing of the country’s largest redevelopment program, and its implications for economic and real estate development.

In focusing on case studies of the East Bay cities of Emeryville and Oakland, where the program's chief executioner, Governor Jerry Brown, used redevelopment funds as a key tool in improving the city's physical environment and economy during his successful run as mayor in the last decade, Stephens "explores the efficacy of redevelopment efforts and the financing tool that powered them, Tax Increment Financing."

Stephens also tells the wider story of the "controversial, if much-imitated, method of funding blight clearance and redevelopment" which has been used by California and 48 other states to "create redevelopment plans, fund local infrastructure improvements, assemble parcels, assist developers, broker deals and sell bonds to pay for all of the above."

With a tool described as "the only consistent source of funding for local economic and real estate development" hastily removed from their belts, Stephens asks the philosophical question underpinning the entire redevelopment discussion -- how will cities develop new financing mechanisms to "create an appealing, functional urban landscape," or will they even need to?

"Though redevelopment professionals readily point to cause and effect between redevelopment funds and new projects, critics question whether projects would've moved forward, even without the government assistance. They further question whether projects built in redevelopment project areas would not have simply been built nearby: Are states spending billions to subsidize business relocations?"

Full Story: Out of Cash


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