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Regional Leaders Denounce Brown’s Proposal to Eliminate Redevelopment Agencies

Officials gather in Goleta to speak out about the importance of RDAs to cities' economic growth and infrastructure improvements

Local officials gathered Friday morning at the Goleta Valley Community Center to decry Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies across California.

The move, they said, isn’t even guaranteed to contribute the money that Brown is seeking from the elimination of RDAs to fill the deficit the state is facing in the next fiscal year, and it would leave major redevelopment projects hanging. Housing advocates and members of the business community also were present to defend local RDAs.

“We know cuts have to be made,” said Kristen Amyx, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce. “But please don’t take away the one economic development tool that our cities have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create jobs and prosperity in our cities.”

Among the speakers Friday were Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, Ventura City Councilman Carl Morehouse, Buellton Mayor Ed Andrisek and Lompoc Mayor John Linn.

Friday’s assembly was the latest in local reaction to Brown’s proposal to eliminate the 400 redevelopment agencies in California. Redevelopment agencies are entities formed to address conditions of blight in local jurisdictions, using a portion of property taxes to fund infrastructure projects and other economic development activity in the given area. RDA money also can be used for affordable housing.

The savings projected in Brown’s proposal are estimated at $1.7 billion, to help close California’s looming $26 billion deficit.

“The San Jose Creek flood-control project, to take care of the periodic inundation of these neighborhoods while at the same time improving fish passage upriver, is Goleta’s flagship capital improvement project in Old Town,” Connell said.

According to Goleta officials, without the flood-control project, no other improvements can be made to improve what has been considered a blighted community, projects such as the redesign of its main thoroughfare and the extension of surface roads.

The desire to complete the creek project is so urgent that on Thursday, Goleta’s RDA members voted to issue $18 million in unrated bonds to raise money for the flood-control project, despite market uncertainty and competition from other public agencies looking to fund their own capital improvement projects.

“It makes sense that Goleta’s at the forefront of this because it’s a new city,” said Schneider, who noted the successes of Santa Barbara’s 48-year-old Redevelopment Agency. Paseo Nuevo, the train depot, the harbor, Cabrillo Boulevard and Chase Palm Park are all contributors to the city’s tourist-based economy, and all products of the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

“Revitalizing the downtown core has created a huge economic benefit, which then brings people to downtown ... and those tax revenues benefit everyone,” said Schneider, adding that RDA money allows the city to leverage funds for big infrastructure projects.

Aside from the improvement of blighted areas, one of the concerns for Isla Vista’s redevelopment is health care. With difficult access to advanced health care from Santa Barbara County’s only redevelopment area, the residents of the student enclave rely in part on the Isla Vista Neighborhood Clinic.

“The Isla Vista RDA owns the building, and we have long had plans with the RDA to tear down that building, create a parking lot there and move the Isla Vista Neighborhood Clinic outside the loop,” said Bonnie Campbell, chief operating officer for the nonprofit Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics. The building is “decrepit,” she said.

“If the (Isla Vista) RDA loses funding, the plans to put us in a new building will, of course, be over,” she said.

Brendan Huffman, executive director of the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties, said that despite all the clamor at the local level, the move to defend redevelopment agencies hasn’t garnered much support on the state level.

“We did not find any lawmakers against the elimination of RDAs,” he told Noozhawk. He said the problem he has with RDA elimination is that he believes it’s a short-term fix to a long-term problem — the state will find itself in the same hole again next year, he said.

Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies is still a moving target. Just a few days ago, trailer bill language was issued by the state Department of Finance elaborating on the procedure by which RDA funds may be collected and used.

“It’s very much not a cooked issue right now,” said David Mullinax, regional public affairs manager of the League of California Cities.

Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, who was recently a member of Santa Barbara’s RDA, said the elimination of redevelopment agencies is a good idea. One of the effects of the measure would be that a percentage of a larger pot of property taxes may go to school districts for their use.

“RDAs have been useful to cities, and we successfully utilized it to revitalize downtown Santa Barbara over the last couple of decades,” he said. “But I also have seen it to be a highly abused source of money, because of the lack of accountability from local governments.”

Williams said schools would stand to benefit from the additional funds.

“If I have to choose between schools and RDAs, I’m going to choose schools,” he said.

To get on the ballot for a special election this summer, legislators will evaluate Brown’s proposals in early March. The bill moved through the state Senate and Assembly last week, and State Controller John Chiang is in the process of auditing the hundreds of RDAs across the state, something critics of RDA elimination hope will provide alternatives to the loss of redevelopment funds.

Noozhawk contributing writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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