KQED spotlight on redevelopment loss mirrors Emeryville’s challenges

2 mins read

Emeryville rode the wave of redevelopment money for decades and it looked like this wave may never break. 3 years ago, instead of gently coasting to the shore, this “wave” came crashing over the city leaving us with a mouthful of sand.

While the “Transit Center” was able to backdoor into a city subsidy by getting 4.2 million of public money through Emeryville’s Successor Agency (The city body responsible for overseeing & transitioning all the leftover assets, properties, contracts, leases, and records of the dissolved RDA), many projects were not so fortunate. Projects like the Emeryville Center for the Arts and Bay Street improvements to support a Macy’s retail anchor were casualties of the RDA chopping block. Millions of Dollars in pending projects such as the South Bayfront Pedestrian-Bicycle Bridge sit in Limbo awaiting the results of years of litigation. The city is faced with the tough task of prioritizing which projects to pursue with a more nominal general fund through its 5 year Capital Improvement Program.

Photo Jan 23, 10 55 37 AM

Redevelopment agencies were a hugely popular way for cities to fix up blighted neighborhoods (which Emeryville had “in spades” after years of neglect and the slow exodus of its manufacturing sector). RDA’s worked successfully by more directly capturing a neighborhood’s current and future property tax revenue and using it to finance new commercial and residential development … instead of the more bureaucratic way of sending this revenue to Sacramento and letting the State decide how we should spend it.

In accordance with California Community Redevelopment Law, the objectives of the Redevelopment Plans outlined on the City website were to:

  • Eliminate economic, social, physical, and visual blight
  • Provide for economic revitalization
  • Preserve and improve existing residential areas
  • Establish a more beneficial mix of land uses
  • Restore the public infrastructure

Unlike some, cities like Brentwood (spotlighted in this segment) & Emeryville actually have something to show for years of redevelopment. Emeryville used redevelopment money to remediate toxic lands and help transition the city to the mixed-use model it is today. Some will argue that a disproportionate amount of this money went toward commercial development as opposed to projects more directly beneficial to residents such as educational and community resources.

Ongoing stories of abuse and the need to address the state’s ongoing budget deficit eventually led to Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to sign into law a legal resolution to dissolve them in 2011. The city looks to close the book on the RDA era with the conclusion of projects such as the pending groundbreaking of the Center for Community Life.

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State, Cities Still Wrangling Over Billions in Redevelopment Money

Walk down First Street in Brentwood, a farm and bedroom community 55 long road miles east of San Francisco, and you can see a model example of what local redevelopment agencies once could accomplish in a commercial district.

“Our vacancy rate prior to the project was basically 40 percent, and now we’re around 5 percent,” says City Manager Paul Eldredge.

Small businesses have flocked back to this downtown since the city put power lines underground, redid the sidewalks and planted trees. A block away, redevelopment and city funds paid for a new community center and park. This was all legitimate redevelopment spending, a project finished in the spring of 2012.

“We’ve always played by the rules,” Eldredge says. “And I would go as far to say Brentwood has been the Boy Scout of redevelopment.”

That may be, but Brentwood is also an example of what a messy process it’s been for California to shut down redevelopment agencies and redistribute their funds.

Redevelopment agencies were a hugely popular way for cities to fix up so-called blighted neighborhoods, by capturing the neighborhood’s current and future property tax revenue and using it to finance new commercial and residential development.

However, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature voted to abolish the agencies in 2011 to help close the state’s budget deficit, because the agencies also shortchanged county and school funding, leaving the state to make up the difference. But agencies in dozens of cities, Brentwood included, transferred billions of dollars to city accounts to protect them from redistribution by the state.


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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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