More Fun With Urban Renewal, Republican-Style


Recently I noted how California Republicans have been opposing the one undoubtedly good idea that has come from Gov. Jerry Brown: abolishing the state's redevelopment agencies (RDAs). 

Opposition to RDAs is sort of the bare minimum of fiscal conservatism. These organizations routinely violate property rights, substitute cronyism for market decisions, distort local economies, and dispense public largesse on a variety of thugs—usually but not always thugs of the left. They are a disaster in free-market terms, and they violate any legitimately progressive concern for poor people and neighborhoods. There are also old-fashioned law and order reasons to oppose RDAs. 

Yet only one Republican is actually voting to end these agencies. In an article (that could use some proofreading) from today's Flash Report, Orange County Assemblyman Chris Norby issues a challenge to his fellow Republicans: 

Imagine a new government program that:

  • Raises tax revenues without public approval
  • Issues bonded debt without voter approval
  • Uses eminent domain for private purposes
  • Builds state-subsidized housing projects
  • Distorts the free market by subsidizing some businesses at the expense of others
  • Gives bureaucrats vast new land use powers.

Would Republicans support such a program? I would hope not.

Yet, redevelopment agencies have been doing all these things for five decades. It would take just two Republican Assembly Members to help end these abuses, and so far I've been the only vote from our party to do so.

I was on the phone with Norby a little while ago. Note that Republicans are not voting against Brown's RDA-elimination plan because it's part of some broader piece of legislation. SB77 is a stand-alone bill that would send a clear pro-market message, free up billions of dollars in state funds, and allow actual free economics to prevail in cities around the state.

Yet Republicans are held back in part by the desire to oppose Jerry Brown, in part by paranoia that the Democrats are trying to trick them, in part by suspicion of the teacher unions (who support SB77 because RDAs take funds away from other services), and in part because plenty of Republicans still believe providing corporate welfare and using eminent domain to help connected developers qualify as being "pro-business." 

Norby notes that as RDAs come under threat (Brown still has the legislative Democrats in support of his plan) and in some cases see their eminent domain powers expire, they are trying harder to get blight findings so they can continue big projects. But courts are becoming more skeptical of blight claims, and recently threw them out in Glendora, Mammoth Lakes and Temecula. 

"So the institution that was supposed to improve the blight has to prove its own failure to justify keeping itself alive," Norby said in our interview. "It's like a psychiatrist who tells you after you've been seeing him for five years that you have to keep seeing him because you're not cured."