The Oakland Coliseum Transit Village has been in the planning stage for years. The 2005 plans call for hundreds of apartments—both market-rate and low-income—as well as stores and restaurants, to be built on what is now the Coliseum BART parking lot.
In the past year, the city’s redevelopment agency has purchased parcels of land in the area, including a run-down abandoned building on the Coliseum side of the street it planned to tear down. But unless the city can come up with enough money to join the state’s new redevelopment program, it will be standing a while longer.
“We can’t tear down that building unless we pay ransom to the state of California because it’s now on redevelopment property,” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said, as she motioned to the building from the BART parking lot.
The transit village is among a number of Oakland Redevelopment Agency projects that may now never make it out of the planning stages. At the end of June, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that would dissolve the state’s more than 400 redevelopment agencies, and charge them a fee to join a new program.
Redevelopment agencies are separate legal entities from cities that are intended to help revitalize deteriorated neighborhoods by bringing in new businesses and affordable housing. According to the California Redevelopment Association, the agencies are the second-largest funder in the state of affordable housing after the federal government.
Critics, however, say the agencies are no more than slush funds for cities to use for whatever projects they want, including golf courses and restaurants.
Quan and a group of officials from other Bay Area cities, including Union City Mayor Mark Davis and Emeryville Mayor Nora Davis, gathered for a press conference Wednesday afternoon to voice their support for a lawsuit by the League of California Cities and the California Redevelopment Association that seeks to overturn the bill signed by Governor Brown. Union City and San Jose are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and Oakland—along with Modesto, West Sacramento and Guadalupe—filed declarations in support of the lawsuit. The lawsuit attests that State Proposition 22, passed in 2010, protects redevelopment funds.
For Oakland, the cost of joining the state’s new program would be $40 million in the fall, and $10 million a year after that, money Quan said the city simply cannot afford. The cost would eliminate the reserves of the redevelopment department—which has a $70 million annual budget—and half the money slated to be used for projects in future years. Quan said this would be unsustainable for a city that had to make severe cuts to get out of a $58 million budget gap earlier this month.
“In my city, we’ve cut more than 200 jobs, cut many services, and then we have the State of California with its hand out asking for the remaining money,” Quan said.
Quan gave examples of projects in danger of being shelved if the city’s redevelopment agency folds: a $10 million renovation of the Army base at Jack London Square; a $5 million West Oakland teen center; one hundred affordable units in the old Alice Arts Center building downtown; and a property across the street from the West Oakland BART station the city purchased after it went into foreclosure.
“We can’t walk away from this,” Quan said. “It’s undeniable.”