Jerry Brown probably wouldn’t be governor if not for redevelopment. As mayor of Oakland, he exploited redevelopment dollars to resurrect his political career. Indeed, his signature accomplishment as mayor, his 10k Plan for downtown, depended heavily on redevelopment money and would not have been possible without it. Brown was keenly aware of that fact and had argued as mayor that the rebirth of Oakland’s downtown and uptown areas would not be possible without huge public subsidies derived from redevelopment. However, such revitalization efforts may now be a thing of the past, because late last week the California Supreme Court approved Brown’s plan to kill redevelopment outright.
The high court’s decision represents a devastating blow to Oakland and other urban areas. It likely will mean that they will have to disband their redevelopment agencies completely, lay off thousands of workers, and immediately transfer local property tax proceeds to the state. For Oakland, it also likely means the elimination of a sizeable portion of the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency, costing Oakland hundreds of jobs. In addition, the ruling represents a major hit to affordable housing efforts in Oakland, as many of them depend on redevelopment dollars.
Brown’s plan, which is now state law, also promises to decimate Oakland’s beleaguered finances. As the Express reported last year, it could require the city to slash $59 million in spending, including up to $20 million from its cash-strapped general fund (see “The Hidden Costs of Jerry Brown’s Plan,” 1/26/2011). The decision also may force the layoff of seventeen cops from the already understaffed Oakland Police Department because the officers’ salaries are paid by redevelopment money.
The high court’s decision stemmed from a proposal that Brown made last year that was approved by the state legislature. Brown had argued that redevelopment was taking too many property tax dollars from education and other state services and needed to be eliminated. He also noted — correctly — that redevelopment had become corrupted in some parts of the state, particularly in well-heeled suburban areas that were using the money to build strip malls and benefit big box retailers.
But instead of fixing the problem, and limiting redevelopment to blighted urban areas that desperately need help, as the program was originally intended, Brown and the legislature hatched a “compromise” that would have allowed redevelopment to continue if cities transferred some of the money to the state. But in an ironic twist, the high court rejected this compromise, ruling that it violated Proposition 22, a voter-approved initiative that prohibits the state from raiding local government coffers. (The court, however, said that the elimination of redevelopment agencies did not violate Prop 22 because the legislature created redevelopment agencies in the first place so it had the power to kill them.)
For Brown personally, the elimination of redevelopment also is steeped in hypocrisy. Not only does he owe his political turnaround (from radio personality to mayor to governor) to redevelopment, but he got married in a place that was constructed with the help of redevelopment — Oakland’s historic Rotunda Building. He held his gubernatorial inaugural bash at another historic Oakland building that needed the help of redevelopment — the Fox Theater. And finally, his beloved charter school, the Oakland School for the Arts, would have no home inside the Fox were it not redevelopment.
The Return of the Parkway
The Parkway Theater is finally on its way back — albeit in a new home. The Express received confirmation from The New Parkway’s J. Moses Ceaser late last week that after more than a year of searching for a place to reopen Oakland’s beloved theater pub, he signed a lease for a new location in the Uptown Art Murmur district. The announcement arrived not a day too soon: December 30 was the last business day before Ceaser would have had to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up funds contributed by more than one thousand investors for the endeavor, according to an agreement reached earlier this month.
The theater’s new location will be at 474 24th Street, a 7,800-square-foot former sheet-glass factory currently used for special events. It is located around the corner from The Stork Club and Koreana Plaza. Landlord (and former Parkway patron) Matthew Iglehart also owns a number of other properties in the area including the spaces occupied by Vessel Gallery, Mercury 20 Gallery, and Two Mile Wines a block away on 25th Street.
“They came to us and said they would love the Parkway there, which would fit with their idea of doing an arts district,” Ceaser said. “He said: ‘Whatever we can do to get the Parkway there we would love to make happen.’ He’s really the first one who has done that.”
From the outside, the boxy warehouse is nondescript and, as it stands now, a tad uninviting. Unlike 25th Street, 24th Street is devoid of casual foot traffic and other art institutions. Current neighbors include an adult video store five storefronts away at Telegraph Avenue and a large mid-century apartment complex one door to the east. “I think it will create some challenges for us,” Ceaser said. “I’m knocking down the attendance figures, knowing that it won’t have the facade some of the other places did.”
Still, he promises that the inside of the warehouse, while about 2,500 square feet smaller than what he would’ve liked, will meet the Parkway’s needs. He plans on investing around $600,000 to $700,000 in capital improvements and another $700,000 or so in assorted start-up costs, with an end goal of creating a two-screen theater modeled, at least in spirit, on the original Parkway Theater at 1834 Park Boulevard. Opening day should be sometime next summer or fall. The theater’s two screening rooms will be able to seat about 240 people total, Ceaser said, and will be accompanied by a cafe/bar area with seating for twenty to thirty and a “good-size kitchen” for preparing pizzas and a wide range of other foods that patrons can bring into the theater and enjoy during films, just as at the old Parkway.
A five-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet in East Oakland on Friday, becoming the third young child murdered in the city in 2011. It also was Oakland’s 110th homicide of the year, making Oakland’s murder rate the same as in 2009. The city had 95 killings in 2010. … And Oakland City Hall gadfly Sanjiv Handa died last week. Handa was a fixture at city council, planning commission, and port commission meetings for the past two decades. He was 55.