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Jerry Brown Slows the Gentrification Juggernaut

by nobody Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 at 4:32 AM

Did you read the budget proposal?

Gentrification in Los Angeles, and all of urban California, has been dealt a firm blow, and by one of the biggest gentrifiers in recent memory: Governor Jerry Brown.

As mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown was gentrifier par-excellence. Going even steps beyond developers like Barry Shy or Tom Gilmore, Jerry Brown didn't just develop DT Oakland - he bought a building and turned it into a loft, and filled it with non-profits, and LIVED IN IT. And lived like a loft dwelling hippie, or at least a wannabe. Unlike these people who are moving into Downtown LA.

But I digress. As mayor he aggressively used government money to pretty up his downtown.

But, now, he said he's going to eliminate all the redevelopment agencies.

Redevelopment Agencies are companies funded by the State to tear down or rehabilitate old properties in cities, and turn them into new developments. These are nonprofits that are founded under a charter to build affordable housing units and fix up dilapidated commercial areas.

What happens, however, is that you end up with these Redvelopment Companies turning into quasi-businesses. They'll build some affordable housing, but focus a lot more on commercial properties, the dynamics of which tend to result in better profits. Some of them, like TELACU, operate entire office parks. Others, like LA's CRA, use their money to build theaters, or parking lots. There are all kinds.

Redevelopment companies also figure large in gentrification efforts. Generally, any place that houses poor people is going to look like "blight". Landlord priorities are usually simple: first, pay the mortgage; second, take a profit; third, repair the property; fourth, improve the property. They're destined to look like crap unless the landord is a bleeding heart liberal.

Redevelopment companies, being nonprofits, are set up so that the first two priorities are met with taxpayer money. Then there should be some cash left for maintenance. Indeed, affordable units tend to be kept very well. They also tend to cost more than the privately owned housing, so you can't be really poor and live there, unless you get Section 8 vouchers and they accept them.

Once upon a time, they were happy to accept section 8... but no longer. Now the trend is to create lower-density, mixed income housing. So they will give vouchers to selected families, and sell everything else at market rate.

And they will do this by tearing down public housing, which is city-owned.

And this redevelopment would have been paid for with taxpayer money through a redevelopment company.

Another popular redevelopment project is shopping centers. Generally you will see the redevelopment money used to subsidize the construction of a grocery store.

Let's see what turns up on web searches. What are some other kinds of redevelopment projects?

- Transit Plaza

- Baseball Stadium

- Parks

- Community Centers

- Pedestrian Paths

- Police Stations

- Gymnasiums

- Vacant land (buildings purchased and razed)

- Mixed-use developments (stores with condos upstairs)

- Libraries

- Alleys


But, no longer. Brown is saying he's elminating the redevelopment companies.

And the Chamber of Commerce is now whining about it, and will soon be begging for mercy.

I'm OK with this. These agencies have become entrenched business interests. They were probably inefficient - some were certainly large, and sometimes the only large organization doing development in some communities. Money is fungible, and will be passed directly to the local governments rather than through a redevelopment agency. This will help the cities that are in debt or nearly so.

Let's face facts - the big mission of redevelopment to provide affordable housing, and to create some okay jobs - a lot of cities don't want to do that. The bigwigs in any city generally don't like poor people, unless they're segregated into a ghetto and work for low wages in some crony's local small business. They don't like small businesses when a big business would fill the same space.

The redevelopment agencies were just political Potemkin Villages so politicians could look liberal, or do some crony capitalist spending without having it show up on the books and ruin some pol's "conservative" creds. RDAs seem to love companies like McDonalds, but not some mom and pop burger stand.

Jerry, go for it. I really don't mind.

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