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April 30, 2008 > Letter to the Editor: Redevelopment in Newark

Letter to the Editor: Redevelopment in Newark

What I found most interesting in the April 16-22 issue of Tri-City Voice is your series on redevelopment. Redevelopment is in many ways a shadow government with no accountability to the public. It seems to only become an issue when a redevelopment project attempts a large proposal, impacting many residents. Such was the case in 1985 when the City of Newark attempted a redevelopment project. It started out in February of 1984 when the city sent letters to residents of an older part of town informing them of a "survey area" the city was studying in an effort to set forth a redevelopment area.

As Newark residents, my husband and I were very interested in how this proposed redevelopment would affect the city. A draft EIR was completed and a response (April 1985) from the County of Alameda Planning Department caught our eye. At this time a number of cities in Alameda County were proposing redevelopment projects on land that did not qualify for redevelopment under state law. As it happened, Newark was one of those cities. Responding to the Draft EIR, the Assistant Planning Director for the county informed Newark that the DEIR was deficient in not identifying businesses and dwelling units that would be relocated; the extent of public improvements required and proposed. There were also deficiencies in a lack of "reasonable alternatives to the project including a reduced redevelopment area pass-through of tax increments to public agencies and adoption of City desired general plan and zoning modifications without redevelopment." At this time, Newark's general plan was about 20 years old and in serious need of updating.

In spite of serious concerns and recommendations from Alameda County, Newark pressed ahead with the redevelopment plan. By June of 1985 Alameda County was considering a lawsuit against the city. A number of Newark residents decided to launch a referendum against Newark's redevelopment plan. We gathered the required number of signatures and the referendum appeared on the ballot in November of 1985. We wanted the city to provide a plan showing what they intended to do in the proposed redevelopment area and very concerned about the city having the power of eminent domain over such a wide area. With only vague generalities coming forth from the city, we were heartened when Newark voters turned down the redevelopment plan.

In the aftermath, it was disclosed that the city council had loaned the redevelopment agency (the council and redevelopment agency are the same people), $120,000. The money was used to hire a consultant to draw up a downtown redevelopment plan. The council planned to have the agency repay the loan when the agency began to collect taxes in late 1980's. But with the election, the agency's power to collect money ended. City Manager, Richard Turnland came up with a creative solution. In a newspaper article in January 1986, Mr. Turnland said the city council could lend even more money to the redevelopment agency which would invest the money, collect interest and pay it back to the council. That is indeed a very creative form of financing. On the other hand, with Alameda County preparing to sue the city over the redevelopment plan, the city would have paid much more than that in legal fees.

You might be aware that at the most recent city council meeting the city council voted to set up a redevelopment survey area to encompass the entire city, save what is already under redevelopment. This is highly unusual; normally cities set up redevelopment survey areas in small portions of town, perhaps several blocks square. I have never seen a city council place an entire city under a redevelopment survey. This merits closer examination.

Margaret Lewis

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