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REDEVELOPMENT FIGHTER TAKES OATH AS CALIFORNIA LAWMAKER

 

By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
February 3, 2010
2009 NewsWithViews.com

SACRAMENTO – A local elected official from Southern California with a 25-year public record of defending property rights and personal freedom was sworn in as the state’s newest assemblyman Friday, after winning a special runoff election in mid-January.

Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, 60, a former high school history teacher, will represent the 72nd Assembly District, an area that covers the northern part of the county and has a population of nearly half a million.

He takes over the seat held by fellow-Republican Mike Duvall, who resigned last September after a videotape of a committee hearing was leaked to the media, on which Duvall is heard and seen boasting to a colleague about sexual escapades with female lobbyists. The married father of two – who campaigned as a “family-values” candidate -- admitted to “inappropriate storytelling,” but said the events he graphically, though inadvertently, described into an open microphone never really happened but were made up.

True or not, Duvall’s sudden resignation left a vacancy in the Legislature’s lower house and opened the road to Sacramento for Norby, who had been “term-limited out” after eight years as supervisor. A contentious primary campaign ended in a plurality at a special election last November, and a runoff was scheduled for Jan. 12 between the top three contenders. This time Norby easily took 62 percent of the vote, Democrat John MacMurray was second with 32 percent, and Green Party candidate Jane Rands came in a distant 6 percent.

The Orange County Register reported that at a farewell party before the last board meeting, Public Defender Deborah Kwast presented the departing supervisor with a coffee mug that states: “The Constitution is not a Technicality” – a reference to Norby’s “frequent and vocal defense of the First Amendment.”

CEO Tom Mauk presented a giant blank check made out to the county and urged him fight for “big numbers in the blank.”

That’s not likely to happen; not according to those who have studied him and his record over the years.

“The Real McCoy”

“Norby has turned in a superb record of fiscal responsibility on the Board of Supervisors,” writes John Seiler, a former 18-year editorial writer at the Orange County Register.

Seiler describes him as “the real McCoy” of a conservative, not a liberal “who calls himself ‘moderate’ and tries to appear conservative in some things,” and predicts that in the Assembly Norby will be “another Tom McClintock, fighting for every taxpayer dime.”

Says Seiler: “He’s a principled opponent of the excesses of government, especially abuses of eminent domain that seize private property to help another, politically connected, private business. He’s always a reliable vote against government waste and for low taxes and bureaucracy.”

David Wolfe, Legislative Director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association – the well-known government watchdog organization – agrees.

“Chris is a longtime friend of the Association and a stalwart representative in Orange County, not only on fiscal issues but also on redevelopment and property rights in general,” Wolfe told NewsWithViews.

“We expect him to be the same conservative leader here in Sacramento as he’s been in Orange County for decades. We have absolute trust in him that he’s going to hold the line on good policy making, good budgeting, and a good conservative agenda,” he said.

Wolfe added that HJTA would be monitoring Norby’s legislation on redevelopment and will “jump in” when it’s appropriate. “We expect nothing less from him since that’s been his crème de la crème issue,” he declared.

Legislative Plans

“Reforming public pensions, education and local government finance will be among my top three priorities in the legislature,” Norby declares on his website. Each item is a key issue in Sacramento as well, where lawmakers and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are battling over the most severe state budget crisis in the country.

Norby discussed two proposals with NewsWithViews for bills he may introduce. One, a plan allowing cities to give up sales tax revenue – which is one cent for every dollar spent – in exchange for an equal amount in property taxes.


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“In that way cities would de-fiscalize land use; they would incentivize all uses – not just big-box and retail, but housing and manufacturing as well, and they’d be tied to a revenue stream which is more stable than the sales tax,” he explained.

Then, because redevelopment siphons off property tax revenues that would otherwise go to the city to pay for public services, Norby would like to see the creation and expansion of redevelopment areas (called RDAs) subject to approval not only by the city council and county board of supervisors, but by the LAFCO -- Local Agency Formation Commission. These are state-mandated local government entities charged with overseeing the boundaries of cities and special districts. There’s a LAFCO in each of California’s 58 counties.

“Right now, if you change a school district boundary, if the city annexes one acre of land, it goes to LAFCO,” he declared. “If a county wants a city to annex county territory, the city goes to LAFCO and it becomes whole financially because the county agrees to give up its revenue stream from this area.

“But redevelopment agencies aren’t subject to that. An RDA can expand, it can be created by a city – and that impacts a county’s funding; it impacts school funding. But there’s no LAFCO oversight at all because technically redevelopment agencies are state agencies. Yet they’re run by cities, they are local agencies, and they should be subject to some kind of oversight.”

Norby said that at present the only oversight, “if you can call it that,” is a lawsuit:

“If you don’t like the expansion of an agency you can sue – and counties do sue. Los Angeles County sues quite often, private citizens sue. But if you had LAFCO oversight there’d be some control over this,” he said.

Two Roadblocks

No matter how many bills the new assemblyman would like to see passed and signed into law, there are roadblocks ahead, says Pasadena attorney Chris Sutton, who has worked with Norby to halt redevelopment abuse and represented property owners embroiled in battles with RDAs.

First, he has only a couple of weeks to introduce any bills before the deadline, so he’ll have to move “fast and furious -- and then he’ll have to run again in the primary in June,” he said.

Second, both houses of the Legislature are overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats. Of the 80-member Assembly, only 29 are Republicans, and there’s one Independent. It’s the same in the Senate where 25 of the 40 seats are held by Democrats.

“I know that Chris can introduce a bunch of stuff, but he is a minority,” Sutton pointed out. “He’s going to need a Democratic co-sponsor.

Norby is confident he can work with Democrats to make much-needed changes to the law.

“I've stood on a podium with (Reps.) Tom McClintock and Maxine Waters in our struggle to curb eminent domain abuse," he recalls. McClintock is a conservative Republican, and Waters – a Democrat -- is far-left, but she takes a dim view of government taking homes from low-income home owners and turning the land over to wealthy developers.

Sutton, too, has a list of measures he hopes Norby will introduce – providing there’s time -- like requiring voter approval of redevelopment bond issues, opening ways for property owners and activists to challenge the finding of “blight” – which is the underlying basis for creating an RDA, due process in condemnation, and a requirement placing the burden of proof on the government that eminent domain is necessary.

“The government should be made to prove that they actually need this piece of property for a project,” he said.

And regarding voter approval: “I’ve always thought that all the stuff that’s done behind the scenes in redevelopment would never be done if they had to get the voters’ to approve stuff. The voters would never approve any debt or eminent domain. And rather than cutting property owners out of the loop, I’d require an agency to give property owners lots of early notice that a project was happening.”

This last would give a property owner the chance to take action.

Redevelopment: The Unknown Government

In addition to his work in public office, first as city councilman, then as county supervisor, Norby is widely known statewide by local officials and grassroots activists as chairman of Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, a coalition he founded in 1996 to end widespread abuses by redevelopment agencies – such as eminent domain and subsidies to private developers. The group sponsors two conferences a year, one in northern, one in southern California.

He is also author of “Redevelopment: The Unknown Government,” a 40-page, go-to booklet for activists eager to learn about these shadowy entities – the powers they hold and their impact on local government finances. Tens of thousands of copies have been printed and distributed in the past 14 years, and it is available online.

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In a 2004 review for NewsWithViews, columnist Joyce Morrison wrote: “Having 18 years experience as a city councilman in Fullerton, Calif., Norby knows first hand the problems development brings to the taxpayers and the community. This book, sponsored by Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, should be required reading for every official in every state.”

Earlier Stories

1 - Paul Walter: National Corruption Starts on the Local Level. Dec. 14, 2009
2 - Tom DeWeese: The "Specter" of Condemnation Hangs Over All Property. Mar. 10, 2006
3 - Joyce Morrison: Redevelopment: The Unknown Government. July 10, 2004

Other Sources

1 - Redevelopment: The Unknown Government: Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR)
2 - Chris Norby: Bio/Background: Orange County GOP Website
3 - Chris Norby: Blight Makes Right. Testimony, Oct. 26, 2005. Coalition for Redevelopment Reform
4 - Steve Greenhut: Political Suicide by Microphone. Orange County Register, Sept. 16, 2009

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Sarah Foster is a researcher and freelance writer:
sarahfoster7433@att.net


 

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No matter how many bills the new assemblyman would like to see passed and signed into law, there are roadblocks ahead, says Pasadena attorney Chris Sutton, who has worked with Norby to halt redevelopment abuse and represented property owners embroiled in battles with RDAs.