Focusing on Economic Development
This column marks the beginning of my year as League president, and one issue in particular continues to dominate discussions: In an era of tight economic resources, how can we best promote the economies of our cities and California as a whole? Now that the Legislature has eliminated local redevelopment agencies, what can we do to ensure that the economy is built for the benefit of all?
Although the Legislature and the State of California are working on tools for economic development, these efforts are nowhere near to providing the scope and flexibility offered by redevelopment. Given the highly volatile political environment of the Legislature, it’s unrealistic to think the state is going to provide local governments with an economic development tool that will effectively replace our defunct redevelopment agencies. Furthermore, as League Executive Director Chris McKenzie pointed out in his September Western City column “Taking the Long View,” the tensions between cities, the Legislature and the governor go all the way back to 1849 and are in no way a new challenge for us.
But the cities of California historically have been self-starters. We’ve taken pride in our ability to develop solutions and protect local control by working together to solve problems without looking to the Legislature or the governor to fix things for us. If the state presents us with a solution that works for a given challenge, we appreciate it and work with state leaders to fine-tune it — but we don’t count on this happening. Cities’ entrepreneurial spirit, flexibility and ability to adapt to a changing political environment are our major sources of strength and creativity, and these are the assets we are drawing on now.
Efforts Currently Under Way
The League Task Force on the Next Generation of Economic Development Tools began work early this year to identify a variety of options for cities and provide some helpful tools. While no single tool will work for every city in all respects, the work of the task force is focusing on two fronts.
First, the League is working with legislators to help address the points of law that have prevented infrastructure financing districts from functioning as effective economic development tools for cities. Our legislative team is also engaged in stopping any efforts at the state level that would restrict cities’ flexibility. As Western City went to press, we were pleased the Legislature had enacted SB 214 (Wolk) to significantly improve the usefulness and flexibility of the Infrastructure Financing Districts law. That bill is awaiting action by the governor, along with a few other bills designed to make tax increment financing available to cities for economic development and infrastructure.
Second, the task force is examining successful economic development efforts of cities and local agencies that can be replicated without direction or help from the state. For example, community development corporations offer a number of advantages, which are described in the article “The Next Generation of Economic Development Tools: Community Development Corporations” that appeared last month in Western City.
In my city, Pasadena, we have established a task force that includes many representatives of strong businesses from our private sector. The task force is taking a fresh look at our city’s strengths and offering suggestions on how we can build on those strengths to help move our local economy forward. Essentially, Pasadena is using the same collaborative approach that works so well for the League — building on the ingenuity and creativity of many people to find better ways to achieve our common goals.
It’s up to us, in cities throughout California, to continue learning from each other and thinking creatively about economic development. We have to work with the business community as well as other agencies in our regions — with a flexible approach and open minds. This entrepreneurial spirit is the source of our strength.
I urge you to share information about your city’s successful economic development efforts with the League Task Force on the Next Generation of Economic Development Tools. Send your information to Dan Carrigg, legislative director, League of California Cities, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s move forward together to build a stronger California economy.