Cities Fret as Redevelopment Winds Down

As redevelopment agencies are systematically dismantled, it's a trying time for cities such as San Diego, whose downtown has been transformed from a place to avoid after dark into a world-class destination.

The last rites for redevelopment in California were administered by the state Supreme Court just before New Year's.

Now the 'wills are being read' as to how the assets of each agency undergoing dismantling will be disposed of, as their former tax proceeds flow to schools, public safety and other services.

As a result, it's a trying time for cities such as San Diego, whose downtown has been transformed from a place to avoid after dark, in the late Seventies, into a world-class destination.

The stewards of that process hope they can maintain some semblance progress going forward.

"I doubt there's going to be any single 'angel' coming in and financing the solution," says Kim John Kilkenny, chairman of San Diego's Centre City Development Corp.

So cranes and construction crews may become endangered species downtown, now that redevelopment is resting not so peacefully.

Stretches of East Village and the C Street Corridor are still blighted.

And parcels such as a block in East village, acquired for use as an urban park to anchor untold millions of dollars of further residential and commercial investment, could go on the market.

"It would be a disaster for downtown San Diego and other communities if there was to be a fire sale of the assets that have taken us decades to accumulate," Kilkenny said in an interview Monday. "And we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn't happen."

The only aspect of redevelopment that seems likely to continue -- but greatly downsized -- is affordable housing.

There are plans for nearly 40,000 more units in San Diego County by 2020.

It's possible half that number could be salvaged through state legislation calling for a 75-dollar fee on real estate transactions -- which realtors oppose.

"We think that's reasonable and fair," says Sean Wherley, policy director for the San Diego Housing Federation. "And the return to the community is so powerful, so enormous, that it justifies it. And this is just one way that we can kind of start to meet that need."

Still 'up in the air' is the fate of the so-called Bayside fire station in Little Italy, whose $21 million pricetag no doubt would have to be trimmed.

"It's very much needed, because we don't have a fire station on that side of the railway tracks -- which creates a very serious public hazard," Kilenny points out.

"And so depending on whether that is deemed to be an 'enforceable obligation', we will learn whether we can can continue to construct that facility, or let it go by the wayside."

Because the Centre City Development Corp. no longer will handle urban infrastructure downtown, 60 percent of its staff of 48 is being laid off.

The rest will still do land-use planning.

But it's unclear how much slack will be picked up by private-sector or assessment-district funding.

According to Kilenny: "It's going to take money from lots of sources to be successful.”

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