Marin residents who fought tooth and nail against approval of Plan Bay Area have identified a new bete noire: proposed state legislation that would replace redevelopment agencies with "Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities."

Senate Bill 1, introduced by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would allow cities, counties and special districts to designate Sustainable Communities Investment areas in locations near transit corridors and to create Sustainable Communities Investment authorities to support development there.

"If you thought Plan Bay Area was bad, Senate Bill 1 is much more extreme," said Richard Hall, who led the fight to prevent his Civic Center neighborhood in San Rafael from participating in the Plan Bay Area scheme to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging the building of denser housing close to transportation corridors.

In a recent column published on the Patch website, Hall wrote, "Senate Bill 1, if enacted, could send us back to Dickensian London — dark days where those with lower incomes were relegated to living in crowded conditions in inner city high rises."

Steve Shea, a policy consultant for Steinberg, said, "I read that article. It was humorous. I couldn't tell if it was tongue in cheek. The alarmist tone does not accurately reflect what is in the bill and what the bill would do."

Other local Plan Bay Area antagonists, however, share Hall's foreboding.
Peter Singleton of Larkspur, who co-founded Bay Area Citizens to oppose Plan Bay Area, said, "It's a really chilling, frightening piece of legislation. It has all the deficiencies of redevelopment agencies."

Susan Kirsch of Mill Valley, a co-founder of Citizen Marin, said, "SB 1 takes the inefficiencies of the dissolved redevelopment agencies and opens the doors to make the situation worse."

Under pressure to reduce the state budget deficit in 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature dissolved California's nearly 400 redevelopment agencies, giving the state access to $1.7 billion earmarked for projects to eradicate urban blight.

SB 1 would define blight in a new way: as inefficient land use patterns that result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, energy consumption, reduced farmland, habitat destruction and a lack of affordable housing.

Shea said, "The bill is attempting to build on the body of community redevelopment law. The redevelopment agencies have been eliminated but the community redevelopment law still exists."

SB 1 would harness the old financing model employed by redevelopment agencies to help finance the infrastructure needed for infill development and affordable housing. This model, often referred to as tax increment financing, involves the issuance of debt, usually in the form of bonds, to pay for new development. Increased property values result from the new development, which generates additional property tax revenue, and this incremental property tax revenue is then used to repay the initial debt.

The authority boards would be appointed by the city, county or special district that creates the Sustainable Communities Investment area. Hall sees this as an ominous trend.
"Unelected bodies are starting to control development, overriding local control," Hall said. "Cities and counties no longer have the ability to manage their own destiny."

But Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Steinberg, said, "The authorities will be managed by independent, citizen governing boards and will be required to comply with all state ethics and open government laws. No tax revenues would be diverted from the schools and the state general fund would be protected."

Like the old redevelopment agencies, the new authorities would have the power of eminent domain. And critics of the bill say under SB 1 the new authorities' eminent domain powers would be even greater. That is because the authorities would be allowed to rely on a legislative determination of blight and would not be required to conduct a survey of blight within the project area.

Shea, however, said that notwithstanding some of the rhetoric over the past issue of eminent domain, "There is not a lot of evidence it was abused on any widespread basis or even used very often.

"There are a lot of legal restrictions developed in case law that require a legitimate public use for any takings," Shea said. "So people can't necessarily come in and clear out residences and put in high-rise tenements as has been suggested."

One more vote by the state Senate is required before the bill can be sent to Gov. Brown for his signature. It is unclear, however, whether Brown will sign it.