Government redevelopment agencies? Most folks don't even know they exist, much less what they do. Frankly, the notion of obscure government entities quietly pairing public money with private developers should send shivers down any taxpayer's spine. And guess what? The LAT found widespread instances of corruption, questionable spending, and poor accountability. Here's how the front-page piece opens:
It was a redevelopment deal with an unusual form of payment: plain white envelopes stuffed with cash and delivered to a go-between at a preschool. And that was only part of what developer Randy Wang said he paid to Temple City officials who "repeatedly solicited bribes" in return for their support of his $75-million Piazza mall project. His allegations led to criminal charges against then-Mayor Judy Wong and three other people, all but one of whom have pleaded guilty or no contest to bribery, perjury or other crimes. Wong recently was sentenced to 16 months in state prison, the harshest penalty so far.
Proponents say that redevelopment has helped revive neighborhoods, including Pasadena's Old Town and San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. But those shining examples mask all the disasters.
Redevelopment agencies in California multiplied after 1978, when Proposition 13 limited local governments' power to raise taxes and prompted them to find new sources of revenue. But many smaller cities that established agencies could not afford skilled people to run them. "Just because someone is running it doesn't mean they're qualified to manage large amounts of money," said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover about the redevelopment agency in Riverbank, a city of 22,000 in the Central Valley.