Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 12:28 am | Fair 58º

 
 
 

Margaret Connell: Don’t Let State Siphon Off Redevelopment Funds for Old Town Goleta

RDA programs are often the economic engines of local governments and communities

With the passage of Proposition 22 in November 2010, California cities believed they were now protected from years of state level raids on local funds. But where there is a will there is a way!

Gov. Jerry Brown, in his proposed budget, wants everyone, except K-12 schools and public safety, to feel the pain as he tries to put California’s finances back in order. Rather than just skimming funds from redevelopment agencies (RDA) as has been tried in previous years, he proposes to eliminate them altogether. The property taxes now going to upgrade blighted areas would revert to the counties and schools and provide about $1.7 billion in one-time relief to the state budget.

What does this mean to Goleta? Our redevelopment area covers most of Old Town from Patterson Avenue to Fairview Avenue and some acreage north and west of the Santa Barbara Airport. Plans are under way to improve the downtown and provide much needed affordable housing. But the key is first to control the threat of flooding from San Jose Creek. Old Town residents remember the 1995 floods that inundated Hollister Avenue and many houses in the area. After rewriting the plans several times, first to provide for a fish passage and then to replace the deteriorating bridge over Hollister Avenue, the San Jose Creek flood-control project is finally set to move forward this summer. But this $24 million project depends on a $14 million contribution from the RDA over the next two years. This basic infrastructure upgrade will be in jeopardy if Brown’s plan is adopted.

Following the flood-control project, plans are under way for the redesign of Hollister Avenue to make it more attractive and safer for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. This would enhance the business climate in Old Town and the quality of life for residents. We expected to fund this with $8 million from the RDA, so this, too, may be put on hold or effectively canceled if RDA funds are unavailable.

These are not fancy, decorative projects. They are necessary to achieve the goal of a thriving, vibrant Old Town in Goleta. We are not talking about changing its unique character, which is valued by the business owners and residents. The RDA has helped fund $777,000 in storefront improvements that have brightened up the Hollister corridor, and added some new bus shelters. We need the infrastructure upgrades to move Old Town to the next level.

Affordable housing is an important piece of improving Old Town and 20 percent of RDA funding is dedicated to this purpose. Sumida Gardens, with 34 out of 200 rental units in the affordable range, was only possible with RDA housing funds. Throughout California, RDAs are the major source of funding for affordable housing.

Goleta planned to fund these Old Town projects with phased annual payments. In the past, the RDA had considered selling bonds, which would be repaid over a period of years from annual tax increment funds. Such repayments would be protected under Brown’s proposal. We may well have to look at this possibility again, even though bonding in the present economic climate is not the preferred option.

Recently, Brown told the League of California Cities, “If we don’t do redevelopment, then what do we take? ... Do we start cutting the public schools, which have been cut year after year?” These are hard choices. Perhaps we can find a middle ground, even a temporary solution, rather than a draconian elimination of this economic engine for local government.

With the significant impacts to our community, we cannot afford to be silent. If you share my concern about the elimination of RDAs, contact Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, at 805.564.1649 and state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, at 805.965.0862. Our state representatives will have the opportunity to review and vote on legislation in the near future. You can also click here for updated information on this important issue.

Margaret Connell is serving her second term as mayor of Goleta.

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