Commentary: Jerry Brown's accidental stimulus program

You might be under the impression that Gov. Jerry Brown is so busy stitching and bandaging California's bloody budget he doesn't have time for an economic stimulus plan.

But Brown, unwittingly perhaps, is jump-starting construction by proposing to abolish about 400 local redevelopment agencies.

The city of San Diego, for example, committed to $4 billion in projects in the rush to spend money before Brown could get it. Los Angeles tied up $1 billion.

Here in Fresno, after saying that it wouldn't speed up projects, the City Council -- which doubles as the Redevelopment Agency -- approved 25 proposals.

They range from a $34,500 demolition contract to $4.28 million in infrastructure improvements near Fresno Yosemite International Airport. At one meeting alone, the council moved $20 million through the pipeline.

Newton's third law of motion applies to politics, too. To every action, there always is an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, the governor's quest to plug the budget and end the debate about redevelopment's effectiveness triggered push-back and rapid-fire deal-making.

Right now, the fate of redevelopment agencies is undecided. State lawmakers have found it easier to cut university education, health care for the poor, welfare and parks than to abolish redevelopment.

In addition, it's anybody's guess whether the state legally can shutter agencies, take the money and honor existing redevelopment contracts with a caretaker overseer.

Last November, voters approved Proposition 22, which forbids the state from raiding local treasuries. But the proposition's backers carefully avoided talking about redevelopment and, instead, promoted the measure as a way to protect local funding for public safety and seniors.

The governor insists that he is on firm legal ground. And his proposed budget includes language challenging recent deals approved to skirt the potential end of redevelopment.

Boosters, including many of the state's mayors and city councils, are battling Brown and promising a legal fight. They say that redevelopment is a valuable tool in fighting urban blight and revitalizing downtowns.

To read the complete column, visit www.fresnobee.com.