As if the umpteen stadium and arena battles ongoing in California needed more drama, the state’s supreme court handed down this yesterday:
The court ruled unanimously in favor of a state law passed last summer that abolished redevelopment agencies and voted 6 to 1 to strike down a companion measure that would have allowed the agencies to continue if they shared their revenues.
More than 400 redevelopment agencies will cease to exist after Feb. 1. Authorized by law since 1945, the agencies have been responsible for such success stories as Old Pasadena and San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter but also plagued by projects that some argued had little public benefit.
First, some brief backstory: After Gov. Jerry Brown declared his intentions earlier this year to stop allowing city redevelopment agencies to siphon off property tax proceeds for local development projects, the state legislature offered a compromise of sorts: If RDAs would cut the state in on a share of the boodle, they’d be allowed to continue. Yesterday’s court ruling struck down that deal, saying that while the state could shut down RDAs it couldn’t attach strings to them; and so, as of a month and two days from now, all RDAs will cease to exist. (Ironically, the court was ruling on a lawsuit filed by a bunch of cities and their RDAs, which were trying to knock down only the piece of legislation that would eliminate RDAs, not the one that would allow them to continue. Whoopsie.)
This is big news for the sports world because, as you might imagine, cities have been thrilled to hand out development dollars when it’s not really their money they’re spending. (While technically RDA spending is just a straight-up TIF — any new tax revenue gets diverted to pay for the project — in practice, at least according to Brown, the state has ended up filling the gaps in school spending and other local services that have resulted.) So pretty much every sports construction project now underway or in the planning stages in California has involved RDAs, which means many of them may now be in jeopardy.
A quick scorecard, from north to south:
- Oakland’s Victory Court plan for an A’s stadium appears to now be out the window, since that relied on an RDA-based TIF. However, its second “Coliseum City” plan for the A’s and Raiders could still move ahead, according to Newballpark.org, as Oakland’s existing stadium site is “part of a separate joint-powers agreement which allows the Coliseum Authority to raise money for its own projects.”
- Any thoughts of moving the Golden State Warriors to a new arena in San Francisco will likely be hampered by the ruling.
- Santa Clara’s stadium funding was thought to be already in place — barring a last-minute petition drive — but $40 million of that was supposed to come from the city’s RDA, which now must turn it over to the state instead. (I’m not clear on what happens to the $4 million the city RDA already pre-paid to the 49ers last March.) That’s not a huge sum to be made up on a $1 billion project, but given how the whole financing plan is already held together by spit and baling wire, you never know what could turn out to be its striped bass.
- San Jose’s RDA already completed its part in the city’s proposed A’s stadium plan, giving team owner Lew Wolff an option to buy RDA-owned land for the project last month. Yet a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Giants-funded Stand For San Jose charges, among other things, that San Jose illegally jumped the gun by agreeing to sell the land before going before a public vote; if a court agrees, then San Jose could be forced to go back and hold a referendum before selling the land — except at that point the RDA would no longer exist to do the sale.
- AEG’s downtown Los Angeles football stadium project would use a TIF, but it seems that it’s one that doesn’t require an RDA. (I think this is because rather than actually redirecting the money, the city would just be totaling up the new tax benefits and hoping they’re enough to pay off the stadium bonds, but don’t quote me on that.) Still, this could give a minor boost to Ed Roski’s City of Industry stadium plan in the race for first place among L.A. stadium plans that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting approved by the NFL or attracting an existing team owner.
- The San Diego Chargers, whose stadium chief previously said that without RDA money, their stadium plans are “done, finished,” are indeed completely hosed. But they kind of knew that already.
In any case, before anyone gets too excited about it being a new day in Baltimore, the state legislature — which, you’ll recall, started off this whole mess by trying to save RDAs while reclaiming a share of their money — can always pass new legislation reestablishing some form of local redevelopment agencies. This being the California state legislature, of course, that will inevitably be a long and painful process — which is why I told the San Diego Union Tribune that my prediction is for “gridlock,” as team owners wait to see how the new world order shakes out.
The interesting bits here in the short run will be how the 49ers (and, if necessary, the A’s) handle the potential new speed bumps in their stadium campaigns. More news to come in the new year, I’m sure.