Measure N — the one percent sales tax increase — was a major win for city officials as well as those hoping to see improvements to Bakersfield’s quality of life.
If a bill being considered by the state legislature comes to pass, even more cash could be coming the city’s direction for use in redeveloping neglected parts of Bakersfield and creating affordable housing.
State legislators have been working to bring back redevelopment agencies, which could send millions of dollars per year to Bakersfield for low-income housing along with other improvements.
That money would be in addition to the $50 million estimated to be raised from the 1 percent increase to the city's sales tax recently passed by voters.
On the first day of the new legislative session, two Northern California senators introduced a bill that would work as a replacement to redevelopment agencies.
Previous efforts by lawmakers to bring back the agencies have stalled in the legislature.
One bill introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, earlier this year would also bring back redevelopment agencies. The bill was sent to the various committees as soon as it was introduced from which it did not emerge.
But as housing shortages have spread across the state, various news outlets have reported that politicians may have found a new taste for bringing the redevelopment agencies back.
That could have big implications for Bakersfield.
"Redevelopment agencies served as a powerful tool in tackling blight, and in redeveloping parts of Bakersfield when I served in the City Council," said Assemblymember Rudy Salas. "I look forward to the renewed discussions and legislative proposals on redevelopment as we begin the new legislative cycle."
Prior to 2012, Bakersfield used a redevelopment agency to designate certain portions of town as “blighted,” and used new property taxes generated in those districts for improvements, with a portion of the funds being required to be used for low-income housing.
In 2011, faced with the worst aspects of the Great Recession and billions of dollars of debt, Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies. The millions that had been used for redevelopment and low-income housing was diverted to other uses.
In Bakersfield, the city used the money to fund redevelopment in downtown, Old Town Kern and parts of southeast Bakersfield, said Development Services Director Jacqui Kitchen.
“We were really limited back in 2011 when they cut it out,” she said. “We had to dissolve the entire department.”
The tides could be turning, though.
The funds from Measure N will be used for public safety purposes, as well as homeless mitigation efforts and a recreation of the city’s economic redevelopment department.
Funds from a newly-created redevelopment agency could supplement Measure N funds, giving the city a huge influx of cash of a sort it has not seen in years.
“It’s clearly separate,” Kitchen said of the two funding sources. “But overall, looking at the big picture, I think both funds can ensure that we have a higher quality of life in the city.”
Bringing back the redevelopment agencies may not be as clear-cut as it sounds.
The agencies were criticized for their potential to be abused by municipalities. The Los Angeles Times reported that some multi-million dollar suburbs were declared as blighted under the system.
Other news organizations have called the redevelopment agencies "slush funds."
Gov. Brown used the criticism in his reasoning for eliminating the agencies.
Any new bills would need to come with strict limitations on how the funding could be used, Kitchen said, adding that the priority for the redevelopment would be on low income housing.
She said she doesn't know if the state will bring the agencies back, but she's not counting it out.
“I think it’s a new day for Bakersfield,” she said. “And I look forward to seeing what the future brings.”