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Sounding off on redevelopment Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Apr 02 2011 12:00 PM

Last month, National City became the first city in the county to secure $38 million in tax allocation bonds from the state for future redevelopment projects including housing and public improvement.

The move is a reaction to California Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones to help bridge the state's estimated $26 billion budget deficit.

If passed by state legislators, nearly $5 billion will be taken from some 400 redevelopment agencies, used to improve rundown neighborhoods and eliminate blight, and be redirected to schools and local government.

Brown's proposal is causing a "hurry up and wait" approach. "It could be tomorrow, a week, a month...," said National City director of community development Brad Raulston, "...until we find out if we're really losing redevelopment money."

National City Mayor Ron Morrison called the bill "harsh" and said this is the circumvention of the California voters.

"If redevelopment was eliminated another 304,000 people would become unemployed statewide, 176,000 in construction alone," Morrison said.

National City has the highest unemployment rate in the county at 19.6 percent, according to San Diego Workforce Partnership statistics from January.

National City receives approximately $14 million each year from the state for redevelopment, which has been used for several projects including Education Village on National City Boulevard, Plaza Village senior housing and the Marina Gateway.

Critics of redevelopment say some agencies have abused their powers of eminent domain to seize private property.

Morrison admitted to some abuse but suggested to reform them. "We have dysfunctional redevelopment agencies just like we have dysfunctional families," he said.

Raulston oversees the redevelopment department which, in addition to funding affordable housing and public projects, finances basic services and programs such as graffiti abatement, business retention and recruitment and code enforcement.

Funds are also used in planning, including the General Plan Update, Westside Specific Plan Downtown Specific Plan and the Las Palmas Park Concept Plan.

Current projects that depend on redevelopment include west side development, which focuses on affordable housing, the Paradise Creek and park improvement, Lowe's big box project Drive Inn Site, Eighth Street corridor and business improvement project and the aquatic center.

Morrison said the state could learn from cities by living within their means. "Redevelopment money has been earned locally and doesn't belong to the state," he said.

National City residents supported a one-cent sales tax twice, which helped tax increment growth in the city.

Between 2008 and 2010, National City received $2.4 million in tax increment and obtained $61 million in projects. "That created 150 full-time jobs and $770,000 in local tax revenue," Morrison said. "That's what you do with redevelopment."

According to Morrison, redevelopment contributes about $40 billion a year to California and is the number two provider of affordable housing and infrastructure.

Currently, National City is weighing the pros and cons of transferring 31 parcels to protect properties, Raulston said. "A pro is that you maintain control in case the state tries to seize assets," he said. "But the con is the liability. It costs the city money every year."

Of the 31 parcels there are 15 properties, many of which are under housing's authority and in National City's control, according to Raulston.

Fifteen million of the secured funding will be allocated for an $80-million west side housing project with 201 family affordable homes, located by the 24th Street trolley station.

Non-housing projects will collect $20 million and include improvements on Eighth Street to improve pedestrian access between the trolley and historic area through Highland Avenue.

Furthermore, $6.5 million will be directed to support general park improvements, specifically Las Palmas Park, including the municipal pool and gymnasium, to provide better facilities and create a multi-purpose park facility.


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