Supes should run redevelopment

Pub date August 22, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom, scrambling to blunt community criticism of the Redevelopment Agency’s activities in Bayview–Hunters Point, has appointed a new agency director, Fred Blackwell. But the problem was not with the top of the agency (the outgoing director, Marcia Rosen, was neither corrupt nor incompetent) but rather with the entire direction that redevelopment has taken in San Francisco under several generations of mayors. It’s time to take seriously the suggestion of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi — that the agency be taken out of the mayor’s control and given to the district-elected supervisors.

Redevelopment is a powerful tool that has been terribly misused all over the nation, and the scars in San Francisco are real and lasting. A rapacious Redevelopment Agency determined to wipe out low-income housing devastated huge swaths of the Western Addition and South of Market in the 1960s, and the communities still haven’t fully recovered. Some people argue that the entire program should be abolished — that redevelopment should be consigned to the dustbin of bad urban history.

But at a time when it’s terribly hard for cities like San Francisco to raise money for affordable housing, basic infrastructure (see accompanying editorial), and ambitious programs like public power, the legal advantages of redevelopment are too good to give up. A state-chartered redevelopment agency sells bonds and raises money with nothing to back up the bonds except the projected increase in property taxes expected from improving a blighted area. The city can’t do that on its own; if it could, then raising, say, a billion dollars for affordable housing would be relatively simple.

In theory, the redevelopment agency could also fund municipal wi-fi, public power, and all sorts of other major projects.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of people in low-income neighborhoods don’t trust redevelopment — and given the history, it’s hard to blame them. But part of the essential problem with the Redevelopment Agency in past years has been its utter lack of accountability; the Western Addition and SoMa plans were drawn up in secret and executed with little regard for community input.

As long as San Francisco supervisors are elected by district, they will be, by definition, more accountable, closer to the neighborhoods, and less corrupted by money than any citywide elected official. Giving the board control over redevelopment is a far better model.

Plenty of cities allow their legislature to run redevelopment. The city councils of both Oakland and Berkeley also function as the directors of those cities’ redevelopment agencies. It’s time to move San Francisco into that column. *