Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 2:36 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 55º


Randy Rowse: In Defense of Using RDA Funds to Enhance Our Community

Santa Barbara's wise use of available funding is much more than keeping up appearances

What on God’s green Earth is going on in City Hall these days? Starving programs in the name of fiscal responsibility while spending like a drunken sailor on housing projects and the library plaza? How can they spend our money on “fluff” when we need more cops and resources for public education?

Randy Rowse
Randy Rowse

In the interest of full disclosure, let me first say that I am, in fact, a sailor. Any other adjectives I’ll leave up to you. Actually, I’ll lay all my cards on the table and tell you why I supported the funding for both the recent housing project and the library plaza renovation.

These monies are Redevelopment Agency funds and are very restricted in terms of what they can be used for, both in purpose and time line. It would indeed be great if we could plug some holes in the budget gaps or simply salt this dough away for some future use. I think we would all support that.

These dollars are reserved for designated “urban blight” capital projects, however, and cannot be used for operational needs. RDAs are not taxing agencies; they simply receive a portion of the property tax revenues generated when values rise, ostensibly because of new investment. These funds are known as “tax increments” and become the RDA’s operating capital. The area served by the RDA is determined by the local planning commission and is part of a developed urban area in need of revitalization.

There have indeed been abuses and misuse of these funds in other municipalities over the years and, while I don’t agree with some of the past decisions made by Santa Barbara’s RDA (City Council), this city has been very careful about staying within the stated guidelines.

Government spending on all levels has exceeded reason and responsibility, and taxpayers are right ... the party is over. These particular funds, however, come from our property taxes and were designated for renovating specific city areas years ago. They are not to be used to enhance public employee’s salaries and benefits. Twenty percent of these funds must be used for affordable housing.

Unused, these monies would revert to the state of California for undefined purposes. Spent here in town, these funds serve to improve public spaces and, in most cases, help to increase property values and thus eventually income that does go to schools, police, etc.

The Santa Barbara Central Library plaza project is, in fact, a worthy one that would need to be done at some time with funds from somewhere. Whether this project at this time is the top priority for these limited resources could certainly be debated. It would, in my opinion, be irresponsible to allow these public areas to degrade, just as you wouldn’t allow your own property to fall into disrepair.

This is, indeed, taxpayer money and the choices had better have merit. Your input is essential and appreciated. Of course, I’m just a sailor ...

Randy Rowse is the Santa Barbara City Council’s newest member.

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