Council delays RDA takeover vote — Long Beach (CA) Press Telegram, 12/21/04

Leaders to wait six months for redevelopment study before deciding

By Jason Gewirtz

[Long Beach] City Council opted to wait six more months before deciding whether to take over the Redevelopment Agency [RDA] Board in a debate Tuesday that sparked a larger discussion about housing issues for Latinos.

The issue of dissolving the appointed RDA Board has divided the council since six members called for a hearing on the issue in October.

But in Tuesday's unanimous vote, members chose to wait until a $430,000 study of the city's cumbersome redevelopment program is complete before making a decision that affects control of millions of dollars to cure neighborhood blight.

"There is no fear, to me, in learning," Councilwoman Laura Richardson said. "There is no fear in knowledge."

The council and the RDA Board, which has opposed the takeover bid, will hold a joint session June 7 to review the report's findings. On June 14, the council will once again take up the issue of a board takeover, which continued to evoke passion on both sides of the debate Tuesday.

"I consider it a decision that the community has been asking for," RDA Board Member Alan Burks said of the delay.

But dozens of Latino residents, including many children, attended Tuesday's meeting to urge the council to take over control immediately. Several said they were concerned about eminent domain, one of redevelopment's most significant powers, being in the hands of appointed board members instead of elected leaders.

Eminent domain allows the RDA Board to force owners to sell their properties to make way for redevelopment projects. Since 1990, the board has used its eminent domain power 17 times to acquire 50 properties citywide.

Others suggested that the RDA Board has looked out for developers' interests ahead of the interests of those living in redevelopment areas.

"Latinos in Long Beach want the City Council in Long Beach to run the show, not big business," said Ginny Gonzales with the League of United Latin American Citizens of Long Beach.

Council members sympathized, despite some suggestions that the biggest housing concerns of those in attendance were not redevelopment related.

Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, whose downtown district includes several significant redevelopment projects, said she will host a "housing relocation information meeting' Jan. 24. While the meeting will cover eminent domain, it will also cover evictions, relocation rules and other issues that don't necessarily have a redevelopment link.

"There's a lot of confusion and a lot of fear," she said.

But Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga said the group's frustration was based on past RDA Board decisions to build housing units that don't accommodate growing Latino families. In cases of eminent domain, Uranga said, residents in blighted properties are reluctant to sell their properties if they can't afford to live somewhere else.

"Under redevelopment, sometimes you don't have those options," she said.

Tuesday's hearing was the latest of several council meetings to focus on a potential RDA Board takeover. Supporters have argued that the move would streamline a process that often takes years to complete projects. Council control would also give elected leaders more accountability over those projects, supporters say.

But opponents had urged the delay that the council approved Tuesday. The RDA-commissioned study that sparked the delay is expected to analyze the good and bad in the city program. The report, due back May 31, will also make recommendations on the best ways to fix any problems.

Uranga, who has supported a takeover, told her council colleagues that her vote to wait for the report was reluctant.

"I truly believe in everyone's heart you have made up your mind," she said.

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