May 3, 2024 - Development

California bill would generate funds for freeway lid projects

Teralta Park in City Heights is built on a freeway lid over I-15

Teralta Park in City Heights is built on a freeway lid over I-15. Photo: Andrew Keatts/Axios

Attempts to stitch back together communities of color that were torn apart by freeways could get a serious boost if a new bill by San Diego assemblyman David Alvarez becomes law.

Why it matters: Communities have for years pursued freeway lids — decks over the interstate that enable park or commercial development to reverse decades-old damage — only to hit a wall over price.

  • AB 2945 would fund the projects from property tax revenue in the immediately surrounding area.

How it works: The Reconnecting Communities Redevelopment Act by Alvarez would allow communities to form new agencies, with state approval, that could issue bonds to help build those lids and other projects that rectify damage from freeway construction.

  • They'd then collect any growth in property taxes above their baseline starting point, within a half mile of the project area, to repay those bonds.
  • That essentially recreates the state's redevelopment program that former Gov. Jerry Brown killed in 2011 while facing a budget crunch.

What he's saying: "This brings two things together: undoing harm done to lower-income communities that were displaced and divided by freeways, and recreating redevelopment, which has left cities with less funding to improve communities since the state dissolved it," Alvarez said.

Friction point: When Brown ended redevelopment, he argued it was necessary to send local property taxes to school districts instead. Alvarez said he kept a small border for the new redevelopment areas because he anticipated school district opposition.

  • "We're having tough conversations with them now," he said.

Yes, but: Freeway lids would create new revenue where nothing is generated today.

The big picture: California and the federal government both have been putting more money toward redressing the harm of interstate construction — and San Diego has already benefited.

  • The San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency, has received $3.3 million between two pots of federal money to study, plan and design a lid over I-5 between Logan Heights and Barrio Logan.
  • Caltrans allocated a total of $149 million for three projects, including a plan to connect southeastern San Diego and National City over I-805, and proposals in Arcata and south San Francisco.
  • The Hillcrest Business Association is also interested in planning for a freeway cap over I-5 as part of the city's attempt to increase development, per KPBS.

The intrigue: Alvarez developed asthma as a child growing up in Barrio Logan, which is one of California's most polluted neighborhoods — due to freeways that dissected it, heavy industry present throughout it, and the shipbuilding industry that neighbors it — and has elevated asthma rates.

The bottom line: "These projects are very, very expensive," Alvarez said. "There will never be enough federal grants, state grants or city funding to pay for them. We need more — hopefully San Diego's philanthropic community will be interested, as well."

  • Cost estimates for a Seattle project ranged from nearly $1 billion for a park to $2.5 billion for a lid that would allow dense development above the freeway.
  • Dallas last year started construction on a $666 million freeway revamp, including a cap that will create 5 acres of park space.

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