By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ten redevelopment agencies in Sonoma County were forced this week to send the state a total of $23.4 million that would have gone toward urban renewal projects such as roads, housing, parks and community centers.
The money, part of a $1.7 billion payment this year coming from about 400 such agencies across the state, will be used to help close the state’s $18.6 billion budget deficit. The money will be used primarily to fund education programs.
Redevelopment agencies will pay an additional $350 million in the budget year that starts in July, for a total payment of $2.05 billion.
“I’m disgusted,” Rohnert Park Mayor Pam Stafford said. “How much more can they take from us and expect us to still function.”
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge upheld the plan on May 4 despite arguments that the shift was unconstitutional and would hurt local economies.
Stafford said Rohnert Park’s redevelopment agency cut a check this week for $4.1 million, some of which was slated for a housing project.
“Also, we had some updates planned at our community center complex,” Stafford said. “We were going to make the area better, but now we’re just going to do the minimum.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration said Tuesday that the funds are going right back to the communities where they originated. “Having quality schools funded is just as important to local economic development as other types of redevelopment projects,” said HD Palmer, the governor’s spokesman on budget matters.
In Sonoma County, Petaluma made the largest payment, $5.1 million. Next year, the city’s redevelopment agency will be required to pay more than $1 million, said Sandra Sato, Petaluma’s interim finance director.
Redevelopment funds come from increases in property tax revenues in a specified project area.
Sato said the agency gets about $13 million a year in redevelopment funds. But she said that more than $6 million goes to other local agencies to help compensate for the fact that they don’t get the yearly tax increment that would otherwise come to them.
“We only have about $2 million left,” she said, and next year, “we’re down to $1 million.”
State officials said Tuesday that redevelopment areas will be allowed to extend their “life” by one year.
“That gives them one more year of revenue that more than makes up for this,” said one state finance official. “That’s $4.5 to $5.5 billion. They’re only taking $2 billion. And that’s in today’s dollars.”
State Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, a strong critic of redevelopment agencies, was unapologetic about the diversion of funds. Norby, a former Orange County supervisor and Fullerton city councilman who spent 18 years on the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency, said “this is not a raid” on local funds.
“Redevelopment agencies are not local agencies, they are state agencies administered by cities to further the state interest in alleviating blight,” he said. “None of this money is leaving local communities. It’s going to fund local schools in these exact same redevelopment areas.”
The Santa Rosa redevelopment agency wrote a check for $3 million on Monday, said Jocelyn Lundgren, the city’s redevelopment manager. The $3 million covers a two-year period and is about 15 percent of the agency’s annual budget.
Lundgren said the city will be forced to delay several projects, including rebuilding the Hearn Avenue overcrossing of Highway 101 and developing the Bayer Neighborhood Park and Garden. She said that plans for a community center in southwest Santa Rosa also would be delayed.
The agency raises money from local property taxes and uses it to obtain bond funding for revitalization projects in five areas of the city.
The Sonoma County redevelopment agency, which administers funds in three redevelopment areas — the Russian River Windsor, Roseland and Sonoma Valley — paid $2.2 million this year to the state.
Kathleen Kane, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission, the governing body of the county redevelopment agency, said next year the payment will be close to $450,000.
“We budgeted for this,” Kane said. “The state told us about this during the last fiscal year. We set this money aside in anticipation of paying the state.”
Kane said that while the money was not committed to particular projects, it means that the agency has that much less for future projects.
HOW MUCH MONEY WAS SENT TO SACRAMENTO?
Here’s a breakdown for each of the 10 redevelopment agencies in the county: