Reconsidering redevelopment


By Steven T. Jones
My head is spinning after reading both the City Attorney's Opinion that struck down the successful referendum drive challenging the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan, and the redevelopment plan itself. Reading the actual 62-page plan and its supporting documents is what Herrera contends voters needed to be able to do before signing the referendum. I contend that few sane citizens have the stomach or tools they need to glean much meaning from this big pile of governtese. And for wonks like me who have a long history of poring through these kinds of documents, I can't say that I found much in there to disabuse me of the notion that redevelopment was, is, and will probably always be a tool for displacement of citizens and subsidies for private developers, with only vague and easily waived controls on how the Redevelopment Agency operates. One exception in this plan does appear to be the outright prohibition of using eminent domain to seize houses -- a needed protection against a tool the Redevelopment Agency used to cleanse the Fillmore of low-income black people -- although other properties can still be seized, despite plan proponents claims that eminent domain is banned by the plan.
But my point here is not to rehash the plan, which you can read yourself (and could have read yourself before signing the petition, whether or not the petitioners had a copy with them for you to spend a couple hours reading on a street corner). No, my main point is that the plan is a big deal, one that should be voted on (at the very least by BHP residents). And it's sad to see city officials circling the wagons instead of allowing that to happen, particuarly when state law calls for city officials to err of the side of letting people vote, as even this opinion concedes.

On the day last week when the signatures on the referendum were certified as valid and the whole thing appeared headed for a vote, Sup. Sophie Maxwell (who represents the area) issued a public statement that began, "I greet today's announcement with a great deal of optimism. This referendum is a unique opportunity to bring a citywide focus to the Bayview Hunters Point community and to our plan to revitalize the neighborhood." Does she still feel that way? After all, this plan was given scant attention by the board or the media (relative to its importance and scope) before being approved. A campaign over the referendum would have allowed a full public discussion of its specific attributes, as well as the tool of redevelopment in general and its long history of abuses and usurpations. A vote would have been -- and could still be -- a healthy democratic exercise.