Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga. (File Photo)

Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Created: 02/18/2012 08:38:12 PM PST

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of stories in which we examine how the elimination of redevelopment agencies has affected San Bernardino County.

For months, local government leaders and many economists have decried the demise of more than 400 city redevelopment agencies across the state.

How will they attract jobs on new construction projects? How will they renovate and revamp dilapidated buildings? How will cities attract businesses?

For decades city governments have relied on redevelopment agencies to identify blighted areas, invest money to fix them up and then cash in on the tax revenue generated by the hoped-for spike in a property’s value. That revenue would go back into more projects.

As of Feb. 1, that method was done, thanks to the state Supreme Court’s decision last year supporting the state’s doing away with the agencies.

Not everyone is disappointed. For critics, redevelopment was an expanding government function that generated billions of dollars a year using an ever expanding definition of blight to help fill budget shortfalls.

The result, they say, was a mechanism that created questionable alliances between governments and private developers and advanced projects that shouldn’t have been done – or wouldn’t have been done, if the voters had a say in things.

Now, cities across the Inland Empire and the state have to live without redevelopment agencies. Not an easy thing when many cities are on the hook for money they reportedly loaned their RDAs to avoid borrowing costs to private investors.

It’s a bureaucracy that hasn’t always led to good results, some said.

“Throwing tons of money at developers” is not going to make projects viable, said San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry, a former San Bernardino city councilman.

Some projects, he said, “were bad in the first place.”

High among those on Derry’s radar was the former CinemaStar theater at Fourth and E streets in downtown San Bernardino.

The theater has been closed for much of its life, since opening more than a decade ago. Last month the San Bernardino City Council approved an agreement with Regal Entertainment Group to reopen, but not before a $7.7million overhaul, much of it to be paid for by the city.

Such public financing in the form of dollars for developers is no guarantee of success, Derry said.

He suggested that the demise of redevelopment agencies would have a beneficial effect.

It will push developments within California’s cities back into the realm of market economics, he said.

‘Blighted’ goes a long way

For critics, the region is dotted with questionable projects done in the name of wiping out blight.

For instance, an audit by State Controller John Chiang’s office last year found that the “blight” so often mentioned by city leaders as a reason for redevelopment is often in the eye of the beholder.

The 18 RDAs that Chiang’s office studied showed no shared consensus of what blight in a city is.

Some honed in on old, abandoned buildings for redevelopment. But other redevelopment agencies’ definitions were much broader.

Palm Desert – which received the 10th-highest redevelopment tax revenue in the state – used its redevelopment dollars on renovating greens and bunkers at a golf course, according to Chiang’s audit.

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