Uncertain developments

Pub date January 18, 2011
WriterSarah Phelan


Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones has San Francisco officials confused about which local projects will be affected.

Currently, the state allows municipalities to redevelop specified areas by borrowing against estimated future property taxes. Brown says he doesn’t want to interfere with any redevelopment bonds or commitments that have been contractually entered into — but the plan would redirect billions from development projects to schools, public safety, and other local programs.

“Redevelopment takes money from schools, cities, and counties,” Brown said at a Jan. 10 budget proposal press conference. “We want to take that money and leave it at the local level for the purposes it was historically intended. That’s police or fire or local activities, county, or schools.”

Brown says his proposal will save the state’s general fund $2.7 billion over the next 18 months. And he wants to help cities and counties raise taxes to replace that money.

But local officials say it remains to be seen what Brown’s plan means for existing obligations, and details won’t emerge until the governor releases a draft budget in March.

“I don’t think we’ll really know until we see what the legislation says,” said Redevelopment general counsel Jim Morales. “Clearly if you have a binding contract, that’s enforceable in court. The Legislature couldn’t pass a law that interferes with that.”

Redevelopment already has contracts related to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Mission Bay. “The fact that we have an agreement is helpful. But a redevelopment plan of itself is not an agreement,” Morales said. “It goes to the question of what is the obligation, who gets it, and what tools do they have to fulfill those obligations.”

Morales said he believes the passage of Proposition 22 in November — which blocked the state from taking local redevelopment funds — lies at the heart of Brown’s proposal.

“The way Prop. 22 was drafted doesn’t give the state Legislature much room to use these funds except to eliminate redevelopment agencies,” he said. “It’s a legal as well as a political strategy to amend by another ballot measure or somehow modify Prop. 22.”

Brown’s bombshell landed just as city officials announced that a settlement had been reached with the Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society over charges that the city’s environmental impact report for Lennar Corp.’s massive development proposal for Candlestick Point and the former Naval Shipyard was inadequate.

The agreement includes criteria for the design and construction of a bridge across Yosemite Slough to lessen environmental impacts and provide habitat improvements.

“A settlement that provides great benefits to people and wildlife is not one that is often achievable. We’re extraordinarily pleased to have done so in this case,” said Arthur Feinstein, chair of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter in a Jan. 8 press release.

“The agreement creates benefits for the community and the open space, habitats, and wildlife throughout the project area,” said Mark Welther, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “The lagoon and other improvements will create an area whose beauty and ecological significance will rival Crissy Field.”

Lennar’s Kofi Bonner said the settlement helps clear the way for fundraising efforts. “It means we have one less lawsuit to deal with,” Bonner told the Guardian at the Jan. 11 swearing-in for interim Mayor Ed Lee.

Still on the table is a suit that Bayview-based Green Action and Power (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) brought against the city’s EIR for Lennar’s project.

Bonner said POWER’s lawsuit is about issues that the developer does not control. “POWER’s suit is about toxins removal and how the Navy is handling the issue,” he said.

POWER counters that it’s premature for the city to certify the EIR for the Lennar project. “The problem is that we are asking the city to approve future uses at the shipyard when we don’t know the result of the Navy’s clean-up process,” said Jaron Browne, a spokesperson for POWER.

Browne said that there’s nothing in POWER’s lawsuit to prevent Lennar from moving forward at Candlestick Point or with rebuilding the Alice Griffith public housing project.