In front of a vacant four-acre lot in Old Town Goleta, city officials and others spoke out Wednesday about the importance of redevelopment money to local governments and reprimanded the state for grabbing at those funds.

The site of the news conference might someday be a park for locals, but that future looks less certain. That’s because the Assembly passed two bills last month involving redevelopment agencies, just like the one in Old Town.

The first bill, Assembly Bill 1×26, eliminates the agencies, while the second, Assembly Bill 1x 27, says the agencies can continue to exist if they agree to pay $1.7 billion to the state this year. According to the second bill, $400 million would be owed to the state in the coming years as well.

The bills were passed just months after voters approved Proposition 22, which prohibits the state from seizing redevelopment monies. In response, the California Redevelopment Association, the League of California Cities and several other parties filed a lawsuit this week, petitioning the California Supreme Court on the matter.

“We believe these bills are unconstitutional, plain and simple,” said Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell, the first to speak at Wednesday’s news conference.

In Goleta alone, Connell said the elimination of RDA funds would cost the city $2.1 million in project monies and another $800,000 toward affordable housing.

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee called the move “an illegal effort” by the state.

“A team of us worked very hard to save redevelopment agencies,” he said. “Sadly, each and every one of those efforts at compromise were rejected categorically.”

Wednesday’s event even sported a handmade “ransom note” pasted on a large sheet of poster board, written as if from the state and demanding money from municipalities.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said younger cities such as Goleta are missing out on long-term benefits of having an RDA fund. The city has seen the benefit of RDA funds throughout the past 30 years, and Schneider said the funding has created a city where people want to live and visit.

“We wouldn’t have the vital economic engine of Paseo Nuevo or the waterfront area without redevelopment agencies,” she said.

Brendan Huffman of the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties also spoke in support, as did Lompoc Mayor John Linn, who implored the public to call or write local Assembly members and state senators urging them to support RDAs.

Wednesday’s event was one of about a dozen news conferences planned across the state involving local leaders trying to get the word out about the state’s move, according to Dave Mullinax of the California League of Cities.

The League of Cities hopes the court will decide in the next few months whether to take the case and that it will make a decision before year’s end, before local communities must begin to pay the state.

In the meantime, Goleta Mayor Pro Tem Ed Easton said cities such as Goleta are rushing to complete RDA projects “just as hard and fast as we can.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.