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This little 'piggy bank' has stayed home

February 15, 2011

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to abolish redevelopment agencies statewide, calling them "piggy banks" for local officials — a mild statement compared to critics who see them as nothing more than "slush funds" that all too often enrich developers with taxpayer dollars that should go to schools, cops and other basic services.

If the governor gets his way — a long shot given the ferocious opposition from cities and counties — $1.7 billion would be saved annually and used to remove the state's $25-billion deficit and restore California to a sound financial footing.

Burbank city officials have written the governor insisting the redevelopment agencies are vital to the city's economic health.

Glendale officials, in an effort to keep Brown from getting his hands on their redevelopment money, took it a step further. Following the lead of Los Angeles, the city two weeks ago voted at a special meeting to lock up $480 million in redevelopment revenues — more than half as much as L.A. is trying to squirrel away.


"What do you lose if you take away this tool? I don't know what Glendale will be like in 20 years if we don't have this redevelopment money."

That's the point of view of Philip Lanzafame, Glendale's redevelopment chief, as he reels off a long list of projects: the economic engines of the Glendale Galleria and Americana at Brand, the adult recreation center, affordable housing, a fire station, improved safety at a rail crossing, and infrastructure investments along San Fernando Road.

In the last 30 years, local governments across California have become addicted to redevelopment funds — property taxes generated by projects they fund, money that stays with the agencies rather than going into general funds, schools and state treasury.

It's not small change that is involved.

Burbank is spending $67 million this year through its redevelopment agency, nearly half as much as the $145 million available to the General Fund for salaries, benefits and core city services.

Glendale has budgeted $70 million for the Redevelopment Agency compared with $173 million in the General Fund. Last year, the Redevelopment Agency spent $88 million, $27 million more than was budgeted.

To Lanzafame, the governor's proposal is like "throwing the baby out with the bath water" — a phrase that comes up often for redevelopment officials  

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