By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The elimination of redevelopment agencies has put in doubt Cotati’s ambitious — and controversial — plan to revive its downtown, even as the city remains on the hook for more than $500,000 for design and planning work on the project.
The Old Redwood Highway redesign project was to rely on about $2.5 million in redevelopment funds for much of its costs.
Now, the redevelopment agency’s remaining money — about $2 million as of August 2011 — will be allocated by a seven-person oversight board to be formed in May.
“I’m trying to remain just ever so slightly optimistic that there will be funding for projects that are in progress,” said Councilman John Del ’Osso.
Two board members will represent the city. The others will be drawn from jurisdictions, such as the Rancho Adobe Fire District, whose tax revenue has helped pay for redevelopment and which are struggling financially themselves.
The board will have the authority to disburse funds to already approved redevelopment projects, but it may also direct the money to the other jurisdictions.
“We don’t know until we get this board and we look at what we have,” said Mayor Susan Harvey.
“It’s really going to be up to that board to determine. We don’t have much say,” she said. “It will be really dependent if that board thinks it’s an important project for the betterment of the community.”
Regardless of what happens, the city this year must pay $516,823 for design work performed for the plan, which evolved from what was envisioned as a two-lane boulevard into a two-lane road with two roundabouts.
Some residents who opposed the plan in the first place find that a bitter pill to swallow. “It’s a waste of money,” said Emily Straub.
But Harvey argued said that while it is frustrating to have to shelve the work, it wasn’t pointless.
“Designs may have to sit there until we figure out a way to fund them,” she said. “You have that work done and when you have the funds you can move forward with it.”
The redesign plan was the subject of furious debate before the council approved it in December.
The controversy is still rippling through the city. Opponents are collecting signatures to force a special election on a ballot measure that would bar roundabouts from ever being built in the city. Leaders of that group said Wednesday they have about 450 of the 588 signatures they need.
“If they do get funding in the future they’ll go ahead with the roundabout project,” said Patricia Minnis, a former councilwoman. “We just want to end it.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.