Redevelopment: put a stake in it

As any horror movie fan knows, the only way to kill a vampire is to get a golden stake and drive it through the ogre’s heart.
Of course, a vampire bites helpless victims in the neck and sucks their blood out.
It is an analogy which brings to mind the research of Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove and her new book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It.
For 50 years, African-Americans have been targeted for highway construction, urban renewal and “redevelopment,” so that wealthy developers can receive their property and create higher uses.
So for instance, while thousands of veterans are homeless, the owners of the San Francisco 49ers can use “redevelopment” funds to build a new football stadium in the middle of Silicon Valley.
The economics of the program make it impossible for long-time residents to benefit. A redevelopment plan borrows money based on tax increments, which mean that the property tax value has to increase.
Rather than single family homes, that generally means pricey condominiums, office buildings like Embarcadero Center or market-rate apartments.
In most cases, the impacted communities only need the services that they are paying for in taxes anyway, such as code enforcement, good education and street maintainence.
In an act of good sense overcoming politics, new California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed with growing legislative support, to end redevelopment agencies in the Golden State.
The timing with the release of new Census Bureau numbers could not be more compelling.
Statewide, redevelopment has been laser focused on black neighborhoods. The result: declines in black population in most of the major cities around the state.
The economics of redevelopment are so daunting that it doesn’t even make a difference when underrepresented communities actually take political control of redevelopment boards or administrations.
It’s a casino game where only the very rich can play.
The most debilitating impact is the double whammy of reduced property values when an area is designated for redevelopment and then the increased demand from speculators.
When redevelopment was announced for Bayview/Hunters Point, two of the most venerable black restaurants immediately were forced out of business by rent increases.
For regular, every day home owners, they face speculators like the vultures who bought houses on Alamo Square for less than $20,000 and now market them for more than $2 million.
The best investment any locality can make is to invest in people through better education and job training. If the billions that have gone to developers in California had gone into education, the state would be much better off.
Most of the state’s growth has come from its investment in education in the 1950s through the 1970s, which has tailed off in recent decades. As a result, we have no shortage of skyscrapers and condominiums, but we’re closing schools and laying off teachers.
For African-Americans, Gov. Brown’s plan to end redevelopment is akin to killing the vampire which has drained the lifeblood out of so many communities.

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