I’ve not posted much about the decision to kill off state funding for CRAs (Community Redevelopment Authorities) in California, largely because I haven’t really known what to think. I have students who tell me that the CRAs are absolutely crucial, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it. For example, California taxpayers chucked a lot of money into LA Live via the Community Redevelopment Authority, and we didn’t even get a bus bench or a street tree out of the deal as far as I can see. And every time I say “why can’t we pursue a TOD near this or that Blue Line station” the response is that “those are outside the authority of the CRA.” So really impoverished areas are not targeted?
So in my experience–not in my research area, but in my experience in LA–the CRA in LA puts money into already viable projects in places the extra money isn’t needed and refuses to advocate (or doesn’t advocate very well) for community design factors in addition to the project’s internal amenities in return for public investment. Stated that way, CRAs seem to be in the business of giving gifts to developers and not asking for much in return. I have nothing against developers, but I also don’t know why some deserve gifts from taxpayers for building something they’d probably build any way (and if they didn’t build it, something else could go up there) and not providing street amenities.
Two recent Op-Eds echo my impressions. Like I said, I don’t study CRAs so maybe I am being grossly unfair, but others share my assessment.
Bill Fulton in the LA Times notes that the CRAs have had every reason to avoid real risks:
When the governor proposed eliminating redevelopment, I was the only mayor in California who supported him. I did it because I believe redevelopment needs serious reforming. Despite decades of incremental improvements to the law, cities still find “blight” where there is none. They have used redevelopment to do anything and everything because the law has allowed them to and they have felt they had no other options. The result has been that one of every eight property tax dollars in the state has been going to redevelopment agencies through “tax-increment financing,” a system that sends any increase in property taxes after land is redeveloped back to the agency instead of to county coffers.
Janet Denise Kelly writes in City Watch LA’s Minorities Not Mourning Death of CRA:
The 20 year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots is nearing. This period brought great travesty to the City and South Los Angeles in particular where buildings burned and people rebelled against social and economic injustice. Since 1992, there have been promises to rebuild South Los Angeles and to target areas for business growth and job creation. Those promises have been modest at best or maybe even lip-service to appease community members.
Crenshaw Boulevard has seen growth with the new stores, the renovations of the Baldwin Crenshaw Mall, and new restaurants like Post and Beam and Buffalo Wild Wings. The USC area has had a total makeover because of its proximity to downtown. These areas because of their political influence and middle class residents have been able to wrangle in businesses and housing developments to position them for more growth in the future.
However, the most blighted communities are still struggling due to the remnants of the 1992 uprising and have been fighting for a piece of the redevelopment pie for years to rid themselves of high concentrations of liquor stores, smoke shops, or problem business that prohibit economic progress.