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April 19, 2005 > Editorial: Fremont's Redevelopment Agency - should it continue?

Editorial: Fremont's Redevelopment Agency - should it continue?

In theory, redevelopment agencies are born to die. They shift tax dollars from other entities for a finite amount of time with a defined funding cap. The reasoning for this seems straightforward - a redevelopment agency's task is to work efficiently towards the elimination of blight without creating a permanent layer of bureaucracy.

When a redevelopment agency is threatened by time or dollar limits and requests an extension, a significant and impressive portfolio of results would be a persuasive argument. Failing that, there is little to recommend sending more money in that direction. Redevelopment agency employees should be aware that in their line of work, success will find them temporarily unemployed but with a portfolio that has other agencies begging for their services.

At the April 5, 2005 meeting of the Fremont City Council, Redevelopment Agency Director Laura Gonzalez-Escoto mentioned that her agency was beginning to come close to the financial endgame. She explained, "In the later years of our five year projections, funds are dwindling. This is because we will begin to reach the funding cap for bringing in tax increment dollars. Later on this year we will come back to you with a plan on how we might proceed to address that funding issue."

Fremont's agency should be required to show significant elimination of blight, both in the housing and non-housing departments, if it is to continue. Although the Centerville Unified Site is finally moving toward resolution, this is not without long delays and serious missteps (Remember plans for Ralphs market and the heated debate over orientation of a Centerville sign on its roof?).

There has been no shortage of staff and consultants over the years. The agency pay scale is certainly attractive enough to expect only the best to be hired and produce tangible results. These employees - usually residents of other cities - drink at the local tax trough, go elsewhere to spend their pay and finally move on to greener pastures. At one point, the Irvington Business Association was informed that the current redevelopment representative would be splitting time with other projects since a full-time position was not warranted. Agency response was to hire an additional staff member - from San Jose.

Next year, the agency has included a $5 million opportunity or contingency fund. This money could easily buy and restore the Center Theater, enhance funds for Niles Plaza or supplement plans for Bay Street and Monument Center. None of this is new, yet Fremont still waits.

When Ms. Gonzalez-Escoto returns to the board with her plan of action, discussion should center on agency costs and results rather than simply looking for a way to continue. Hard questions need to be asked and answered: How much money has been spent? Where did the money go? Has the agency eliminated blight? How much of the agency budget has been spent on staff and consultant fees? Can results be accomplished in a more cost-effective manner? Has the agency adhered to the goals of redevelopment?

Can the Fremont Redevelopment Agency defend its record and convince the public of an overriding reason to perpetuate this additional layer of government? If not, Fremont should concentrate on an exit strategy.

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