Top Calif. mayors meet in Sacramento over funding

January 26, 2011 8:16:36 PM PST
A showdown is shaping up in Sacramento over re-development money -- property taxes that are diverted from schools and fire departments to help spur the economy. Gov. Jerry Brown met Wednesday with the mayors of the state's 10 biggest cities. They include Chuck Reed of San Jose, Ed Lee of San Francisco, and Jean Quan of Oakland.

It's rare for the mayors of California's nine largest cities to be in one place, but they all came to the Capitol to meet with Brown in an effort to save their redevelopment money, which this year is $1.7 billion.

Local governments typically use a fraction of property taxes to help spur revitalization in blighted neighborhoods with projects like shopping malls and affordable housing to create 300,000 jobs a year.

"All of us have historical high unemployment rates, in my case, a very high poverty rate. This is the wrong time to move away from job creation," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

But Brown says in these though budget times, he needs to divert that money to schools, public safety and social programs.

"The hallways are going to be crowded in the coming months of people who say, 'Please keep the money coming.' And my message is: the money is not there," said Brown.

Other mayors say it is not fair to play one need against another.

"If we're going to give our kids hope of a job, a promise of a future, you can't pit the immediate needs vs. what they need in the future," said Quan.

Brown's plan to eventually eliminate more than 400 redevelopment agencies throughout the state has brought attention to whether they're really accomplishing what they claim.

Research studies question how many jobs they actually create and whether they bring in enough revenue to justify the investment. Plus overhead of each agency is eye-popping, with Los Angeles' agency, for instance, paying its CEO nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year and secretaries nearly $75,000.

"The research shows that redevelopment doesn't give us the bang for the buck we need in these economic times," said Jean Ross from the California Budget Project.

The mayors say redevelopment is worth it because it creates jobs and point out many of their downtowns are now success stories. Meanwhile, Brown told the mayors he is open to any ideas to close the multi-billion dollar budget deficit.