When Brown was mayor, Oakland City Hall voted to seize small downtown businesses -- businesses like the un-tony Revelli Tire -- under eminent domain so that a private developer could build apartments on the land. First-generation American car repairman Tony Fung stood up against Oakland's legion of lawyers, but told me, "There's no way a small guy like me is able to fight that."
These were not blighted businesses -- Brown admitted as much to me at the time -- they were simply small enterprises that were bulldozed, he said, for "a greater good."
No doubt that greater-good spirit has moved more than a dozen cities to fast-track redevelopment projects before -- if -- Sacramento acts. Working on Martin Luther King Day even, Fremont officials approved $133 million for a project near a new BART station.
Can Brown move the Legislature to act against this powerful lobby, which has the support of some pro-business Repubs and some big-government Dems?
"I think everyone agrees that at the redevelopment mechanism has been useful and created jobs," Democratic Treasurer Bill Lockyer said. But: "The last I heard, the University of California and California schools create jobs."
The bad news: Brown also told the League of Cities Wednesday, "You may win on redevelopment and then we take something else away."
Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, framed the issue well -- it's a choice between "a subsidy for public and private development" and $1.7 billion for education, public safety and child welfare.
So then you dump the corporate welfare. In a report "Redevelopment: The Unknown Government" Norby wrote that the redevelopment status quo "encourages retail developers to expect public handouts."
Enough. Besides, cities still will have the power to push for smart construction projects -- they just won't have a money pot that makes it look free.
Last question: How can you tell if redevelopment funds bankrolled a building? It's new, big and mostly empty.