The problem Downtown
I resigned in April 2006 from the elected Centre City Advisory Committee (CCAC) board overseeing the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), and I am reminded of that by reading your story about Teddy Cruz [“The Front Lines,” Feb. 4].
I joined the CCAC two years earlier with the idea that I would mitigate a specific corruption, whereby CCDC had developers basically write up their dream Community Plan by updating the 1992 Downtown version into one that increased density by increasing the development potential of the land. The side effect was an increase in the value of the land.
Downtown was pegged for urban infill since it was the only place, city-wide, that would politically accept it, but the density called out in the 1992 Community Plan was always enough—in fact, more than could be realized Downtown through 2025.
However, developers would have to limit individual block densities in the 1992 plan and achieve the overall density needs of the city by spreading out development over the 1,500 acres that comprise Downtown. This was not as profitable to them as developing all that density on just a handful of blocks with very tall buildings, which the new Downtown Community Plan update allowed.
So Downtown land prices jumped from $200 per square foot to $450 between 2002 and 2005 on speculation that the Community Plan update would pass in 2006. And yet, this increased price of land was nothing compared with the added profit potential gained by developers from the new Community Plan update. In urban development, all the gravy is in the top 25 percent of a building, and high-density buildings had great development potential during the real-estate boom.
The downside to making the land so much more costly by increasing its development potential was that small buildings no longer penciled out. The last five-story wood-framed structure built Downtown was the Oliver-McMillan apartment building on Seventh Avenue and G Street.
This means only wealthy people at 300-percent AMI (area median income) could afford the new condos in the new towers popping up all over Downtown, and there weren't any new five-story structures being built to accommodate those who could not afford the pricey condos. Maybe today the prices are crashing all around, but the intent was to sell high-priced condos at great profit regardless of the “unforeseen” consequences.
The entire purpose of the Downtown Community Plan update was to artificially turn Downtown into another La Jolla for private profit and public tax increment, pricing out poor and lower-middle-class citizens on the side. It was definitely not a Community Plan, no matter how much they say the public was involved. I hammered over and over that “Downtown is for everybody” in 2004 and 2005 and got into debates at CCDC with those who said otherwise. My claim was that while other neighborhoods were distinct communities, Downtown was the seat of government, the place where everyone was welcome and where so much of the culture and society was centered.
Unfortunately, it appears there still is a mission for the CCDC board to enable developers in their “enrichment of Downtown,” despite the rocky financial times—I don't think it can help itself, as the CCDC board is composed of developers and their legal counsel, so prescribed by a flawed state law. There has always been a conflict of interest in this general manner, where the board votes for what's good for developers, citing free-market principles and the trickle-down effect. Fact is, the plan for Downtown development is not directly based on what's best for the community; rather, it's based on what best serves the developers' interests, indirectly hoping that the public good will eventually be served.
CCDC needs a board of directors made up of esteemed community leaders citywide, not developers and their lawyers. CCDC needs to guide redevelopment for the benefit of the public, not promote it for developers' profit and the raking in of tax-increment money politicians love so much. CCDC needs to reduce floor-area ratios Downtown to enable affordable, low-cost wood-framed buildings. CCDC needs to address the highly flawed Downtown EIR that, as passed, has so many unmitigated impacts that it looks like Downtown is headed for a planned disaster. CCDC needs to stop the flagrant abuse of eminent domain for developers' benefit and use it fairly for public projects. CCDC needs to attract families living Downtown and build community with the surrounding neighborhoods, not take them over. CCDC needs a CEO who would agree.Chris Hall,Shingletown, Calif.