"We're short of money, cities are short of money, schools are laying off teachers," Brown said. "We're in a tough situation. So we have to think as Californians first."
The remarks come as numerous local agencies in the last few days frantically began spending redevelopment money before Brown can take it.
The city of Los Angeles was the first to move, approving nearly $1 billion in projects. Riverside County signed off on $155 million, the Northern California city of Fremont OK'd $140 million and Citrus Heights, near Sacramento, pushed through $60 million.
Critics said the moves are an attempted end-run around Brown's budget proposal and only subsidize developers.
"They're saying we want to get ours now and we'll leave it up to the rest of you to figure out how to solve the state's fiscal crisis," said Carroll Wills of the California Professional Firefighters. "We just think that's an unbelievably callous approach."
But local leaders said those projects create jobs and point to the successful revitalization of Old Pasadena and Brown's old turf, downtown Oakland.
"How are we going to be able to create jobs if we don't have the tools to attract businesses, retain businesses and do improvements in the area?" said Luis Marquez, the mayor of Downey.
Even Brown said he understands the value of redevelopment funds, having used such money himself as Oakland's mayor to restore the historic Fox Theater.