Hunters Point plan: Wait for an audit

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EDITORIAL The redevelopment plan for Hunters Point was heading for almost certain approval at press time, in part for a pretty dumb reason: It exists.

If you ask supporters of the plan, like Redevelopment Agency director Marcia Rosen, about the harsh criticism in some parts of the African American community, she'll confront you with a very good question: What's the alternative?

The area is economically depressed, the city and state don't have much money to pour into it, and redevelopment at least offers the option of federal money and tax-increment bonds that could generate thousands of jobs, create thousands of units of affordable housing, help new businesses get going (and help old ones prosper), and generally improve the lives of a lot of struggling people.

At least, Rosen says, her agency has a tangible proposal. Even if it's not perfect and no economic development plan ever is it's something.

And that's true, but we still have this lingering problem: The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has never been anything but a disaster for the African American community. Since the 1950s the agency has used its extensive authority to drive black residents out of town, destroy black-owned businesses, eliminate existing affordable housing, and destroy the hearts of black neighborhoods.

And redevelopment has its own expenses according to the Board of Supervisors' budget analyst, $100 million of the money the agency raises in tax-increment financing will go to overhead and administrative expenses.

Redevelopment is a powerful tool, which is why some progressives still like it. Despite the abuses of the past, they say, it's possible to use that tool properly. A redevelopment agency can issue bonds backed not by the city but by the projected increase in tax revenue that will come from the economic revitalization of an area. Those bonds don't require voter approval, provide immediate cash for things like permanently affordable housing, and have no impact on the city's credit rating.

In the past, almost nobody has paid much attention to where the bond money actually goes and how much of the tax-<\h>increment financing winds up improving the lives of the people in the project area. That's a serious problem.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Western Addition a neighborhood that still suffers from the ugly scars of redevelopment argues that before the city launches a new redevelopment project, there ought to be a complete audit of where San Francisco redevelopment money has gone in the past. How much of the tax-<\h>increment money has subsidized the profits of private developers? How much has gone to market-<\h>rate housing? How much has gone to high agency salaries and expenses?

Equally important, how many people of color have been forced from their homes by redevelopment and how many have ever been able to return? How many minority-<\h>owned businesses have been destroyed, and how many created? How many jobs in redevelopment project areas have actually gone to residents of those areas?

How did the failures of the past happen and how can we keep them from happening this time around?