Gray Panthers of San Francisco
November 2007 Newsletter

The City That Knows How ... to Gentrify


The October general meeting was a lively discussion of redevelopment and gentrification in San Francisco. Gray Panthers member Michael Lyon opened the program with a brief presentation defining redevelopment as a state program authorizing cities to set up agencies to deal with areas that are “blighted”—25% of urban areas in California are considered blighted. Four-fifths of California cities have redevelopment agencies, and once authorized, they stay in place for 30–40 years.

Their powers, which are astounding, include siphoning off of property taxes; seizing property by eminent domain; subsidizing business with free land, cash grants and tax rebates; and selling debt bonds. The more the property is improved (for example, by encouraging developers to build condos), the greater the property taxes siphoned off by the redevelopment agency—currently 10% of all property taxes in the state. The more blighted property taken over, the more potential for “improvements” (read new development), higher property taxes and higher rents. No wonder urban renewal under redevelopment agencies has been renamed urban removal.

Clearly, areas taken over by redevelopment agencies are on the road to gentrification. The second speaker, Bayview/Hunters Point activist and mayoral candidate Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, decried the unrelenting focus on improving the city for business and the rich and called for a moratorium on above market-rate housing and the strengthening to 25% of the ordinance that mandates below market-rate housing in every new development. What’s needed, Dr. Sumchai said, is a shift of budget priorities to focus more on the real needs of people who live here: substance abuse and mental health programs and primary care; assisted living for the sick and elderly; improvement of Muni, starting with more buses and more drivers; public safety and disaster preparedness; universal childcare.

Questions to pursue: who decides to have a redevelopment authority? What’s the relationship between redevelopment and HUD? How can the agency’s power in SF be curtailed or stopped? Tell us if you’re interested in researching any of them.

Read a preview of this meeting with link to articles on redevelopment, gentrification, and removal of low and moderate income families and minorities.

For an explanation of how Revedelopment Agencies operate, read Redevelopment: The Unknown Government, by Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform.

Read the SF Bay Guardian's extensive 50-year history of commercial development and re-development in San Francisco.

Read other SF Gray Panthers articles about redevelopment.

(back to November 2007 Newsletter front page)