“This is a sad day for the mermaids. But it is a victory for the people,” said downtown landlord Moe Mohanna, at a little party he threw last week to celebrate, perhaps prematurely, the death of redevelopment.
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown got the blessing from the California Supreme Court to abolish local redevelopment agencies and direct that money back to schools and cops and other basic services.
Certainly, redevelopment will come back in some form; Brown hasn’t yet found all the horcruxes. But here and there you can hear the cheers of the redevelopment resistance.
Mohanna’s mermaid joke was directed at Sacramento’s $6 million subsidy for most-favored developer David Taylor, who built, among other K Street bro-cations, a bar with a water tank and live mermaids inside.
The place is called Dive Bar, an insult to those precious few actual dive bars remaining on the grid. But “mermaid bar” has become a short of shorthand for redevelopment abuse—for the way local agencies use taxpayer funds to pick winners, reward friends and threaten foes, like Mohanna.
Mohanna went at it with the city over property he owned on K Street, right in the middle of Sacramento’s perpetual redevelopment vortex.
“They told me, ‘You are going to give us your property or we’re going to take it by force,’” Mohanna said.
There were court fights, the threat of eminent domain, at one point buildings mysteriously caught fire. It was a mess. Redevelopment is funny that way.A quick digression: Strictly speaking, the mermaid-bar money was
not redevelopment money. Sort of. It came from a $25 million pot o’ cash the city set aside to use for Taylor projects, after Taylor agreed to take the Sheraton Hotel off of the city’s hands. Bites isn’t saying the money was a kickback—just that the city sort of … kicked it back to him.
And now even the Sheraton money may get snatched up by Brown. So, yeah, it really probably is redevelopment money after all.
But back to the party, in Mohanna’s Oddfellows building, just up K Street from the Dive Bar.
Inside, the Persian food was tasty, and the company was eclectic.
“Sometimes politics really brings people together who you would never guess would be on the same side,” said guest Jon Coupal, president of the conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He added that what unites critics of redevelopment is a distaste for “crony capitalism.”
Bites sat at a table with Justin Turner, a staffer for Orange County Republican assemblyman and redevelopment foe Chris Norby. On the other side of the table were John and Debra Reiger, lefty activists with the Peace and Freedom Party.
Conservative columnists Katy Grimes and Steven Greenhut of Cal Watchdog were there, rubbing elbows with folks from Loaves & Fishes. Throughout Oddfellows hall, people from the property-rights movement chit-chatted with the defenders of the property-less.Mohanna is a champion of the poor in his own right, well-known for
his contributions to the homeless and his oft-stated preference for the little guy. He’s no saint of course. He works the angles. He’s been called obstructionist and slumlord in the local daily paper.
So at his party, Mohanna railed against The Sacramento Bee and Taylor and the CIM Group—which recently lured one of Mohanna’s prize tenants, Temple Coffee, away from him to its building on Ninth Street. That project got $9 million in city redevelopment money a few years back. Today, it’s taking tenants from nearby landowners. Crony capitalism, indeed.
So, it’s fun to see Mohanna take this victory lap, even if it’s short lived. Because he’s a person, not a big fish. Definitely not a mermaid.