The fact isn't lost on many people, least of all the man himself, that Gov. Jerry Brown's controversial proposal to do away with local redevelopment agencies is rich with small ironies.
First, there's the governor's new loft: an award-winning example of infill development in downtown Sacramento that was funded in part by the same type of redevelopment agency Brown wants to eliminate. After meeting with Brown earlier this week to discuss the proposed cuts, Yuba City Mayor John Dukes wasn't shy about telling the Sacramento Bee that he found the choice of digs to be "a little hypocritical."
Then there are his eight years as mayor of Oakland – a time marked by arguably one of the most ambitious urban restorations in modern California history. A centerpiece of the restoration, the iconic Fox Theater, received millions in redevelopment funds and now houses one of Brown's prized charter schools.
And when Gov. Gray Davis threatened to scale back funding for redevelopment agencies in 2003, it was Brown who reportedly argued (according to the paid archives of the Alameda Times-Star) that such cuts would only compound the Oakland's financial problems.
But perhaps the most striking irony is that Brown, who has such a keen understanding of gestures and symbols that he once refused to mend a hole in the governor's office carpet so visiting officials would feel bad asking for money, is perceived as having such a symbolic disconnect between his public persona and his proposed policy.
Redevelopment funds provide much-needed fuel for exactly the kind of development Brown personally seems to prefer: industrial downtown lofts, restored historic buildings and urban infill. He has lived, at different points, in a restored firehouse, an urban commune and a loft in the old Sears Roebuck building in downtown Oakland.
Just last month, he was described (somewhat facetiously) in one blog post as a trend-setting urban hipster. The day of his inauguration, Michael Shaw of Sacramento Business Journal even mused about whether Brown's election would be good for infill development. At the time, the opinion of the California Infill Builders Association – which was formed, of all places, at the same loft complex that Brown now calls home – seemed to be "yes."
It hasn't taken development groups long to temper their enthusiasm.
"This budget proposal to eliminate redevelopment is more budget smoke and mirrors that will bring little financial gain for the state but will cause widespread and significant economic pain in communities throughout California," John Shirey, head of the California Redevelopment Association said in a statement.
Confronted with some of these questions earlier this week at a meeting with local government leaders, Brown's response was pragmatic. When he was mayor, Brown said, the state had money for redevelopment. It simply doesn't anymore.
"I like redevelopment," Brown said, according to the LA Times. "I didn't quite understand it, seemed kind of magical. I put a lot into the Fox Theater, got this beautiful theater. Tens of millions of dollars ... I'm sure glad I got it built before this damn budget came out."
Brown has made clear that he sees cutting redevelopment agencies as more a matter of fiscal prudence than a philosophical objection to redevelopment in general, but cities have still worried that the cuts will hamper exactly the type of smart-growth development that they, and Brown, have long supported.
What remains to be seen is how Brown's proposed cuts will eventually come together with his environmental platform, which places heavy emphasis on projects that would reduce sprawl and encourage people to live closer to their workplaces. In the words of his campaign:
5. Build Livable Communities.
California’s population is expected to increase to 60 million by 2050, which – in the absence of sound policies – will increase congestion, vehicle miles driven, and air pollution; it will also result in paving over more than a million acres of the State’s most productive farmland. Improving the quality of life in California communities requires that jobs be located closer to where people live, thereby allowing people to spend less time commuting and more time with their families and friends.
- Ensure that the Strategic Growth Council provides resources for more sustainable local development.
- Provide incentives for development near transportation and business hubs.
- Link state transportation funding to projects that avoid sprawl, reduce vehicle miles traveled and encourage livable communities.
- Encourage businesses to adopt programs that reduce dependency on solo automobile trips.
- Promote safe routes to school that encourage kids to walk and bike instead of being driven.