By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cotati’s City Council on Monday committed millions in redevelopment funds to specific projects, trying to ensure the state can’t get the money if the legislature goes along with Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate local redevelopment agencies.
As have other Sonoma County cities, Cotati created a legal agreement under which the city committed its redevelopment money, $4.9 million, to certain projects while it is still available.
The intent . . . is to pledge agency funds … so that they are not disrupted by ill-advised actions by the state,” said Jone Hayes, Cotati’s administrative services director.
Brown says he wants to eliminate redevelopment agencies, which raise money by diverting all increases in property tax revenue away from other agencies that normally would share them, and redistribute the funds to local governments’ general funds. The proposal is part of a strategy Brown has outlined to pare the state deficit by cutting state funding of local services.
From the audience, former Cotati councilman George Barich said the money belonged to the state and wasn’t the city’s to spend. He added that moves to lock in the money will be challenged legally.
“By taking this money, you’re going to be inviting unwanted litigation,” Barich said.
Councilwoman Pat Gilardi retorted: “This isn’t Cotati taking the state’s money, this is the state taking Cotati’s money.”
The move was for the public’s benefit, said Councilman Mark Landman. “If our responsibility is to protect the public good, the public investment, then it’s our job to protect that,” he said.
Council members also have argued that the city has put staff time and money, including grants, into the projects to which it chose to commit the funds.
“We have a prior investment in these projects,” Councilman Bob Coleman-Senghor said at a council meeting last week when the issue was raised.
One of the projects to be funded is a rehabilitation project on Old Redwood Highway, which runs into Cotati’s downtown. It includes design improvements, decorative lighting and pedestrian and bicyclist facilities.
Another project is a transit station with a depot building and plaza on the route of the proposed SMART rail line. The city has received grants that it plans to match with the redevelopment funds. The project is about three-quarters of a mile east of Cotati’s downtown.
The funds the council committed on Monday also will be used on three existing affordable housing projects.
“We’ll see what the future brings,” said Mayor Janet Orchard, acknowledging the thicket of legal uncertainty that has consumed the issue of redevelopment funds and what tack the governor may take regarding monies cities are now rushing to commit.