As cities across the state are contemplating if and how they can spur economic and real estate development in the absence of redevelopment, the Los Angeles County city of Alhambra has taken early steps towards a self-help plan.
Last week the Alhambra City Council heard a first reading of an ordinance that would empower the city to employ a range of economic development tools and to pursue funds to pay for them now that tax increment financing is no longer available. The ordinance would vest in the city many of the powers that the redevelopment agency held.
The ordinance would permit the city to buy and sell land, provide financial assistance to developers, rehabilitate and remediate city-own land, among other strategies. And it would empower the city to work closely with developers on projects that the city deems desirable.
"Activities in that program would be very similar to the tools used with redevelopment in the sense that we'll be able to continue with a lot of activities that we were using," said Julio Fuentes, Alhambra city manager and president of the board of the California Redevelopment Association.
Fuentes considers it a stopgap measure enabling the city to pursue projects as it and the state's other cities wait for a statewide replacement to redevelopment to emerge from Sacramento. Some say that "Redevelopment 2.0" could be years away.
"We will at least be able to at least continue to do work and if there is a statewide strategy created," said Fuentes.
Alhambra's is possibly the first such ordinance to be considered in the state since redevelopment was dissolved Feb. 1. Fuentes said that other cities have contacted him to inquire about the ordinance, presumably with an eye towards replicating it.
"You have to look towards a self-help program where you need to sit down with your councils and city attorney…and design a program that works for you," said Fuentes.
The ordinance would permit the city to seek funds such as Section 108 and Community Development Block Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fuentes also said that it could open the door for the city to garner funds generated by new developments, such as sales tax revenue from new retail establishments. Fuentes suggested that the city could pursue lines of credit, loan transfers, and the sale of city assets. He also proposed that the city could set aside a certain portion of the property tax that it receives from new projects and dedicate it to economic development.
Fuentes is particularly enthusiastic about HUD grants because, he said, HUD is focusing on job creation now more than ever before.
Perhaps most importantly, the ordinance calls for the city to retain its former redevelopment staff. Many supporters of redevelopment have speculated that the dissolution of redevelopment agencies and dispersion of RDA staff would make future economic development efforts difficult for lack of expertise, institutional memory, and bureaucratic infrastructure.
Fuentes said that Alhambra can consider the ordinance because it is a charter city. General law cities may have more complicated legal considerations.
Fuentes warned, however, that this sort of local effort will not replace the former system of redevelopment.
"I think we can strive to accomplish the same goals and objectives that the agency had," said Fuentes. "But I think that when you look at the total effort here, it's not going to be on the same level as the agency's effort."