By MARTIN ESPINOZA & BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The state is standing firm in rejecting a Sonoma County request to keep more than $16 million in redevelopment funds for two major projects in Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood.
On Tuesday, Sonoma County supervisors decried the state Department of Finance’s recent decision to deny the use of redevelopment funds to complete the Roseland Village plaza, including a residential and commercial complex, as well as the Highway 12 street and sidewalk upgrades in an area north of Sonoma known as The Springs.
The state’s decision — the third time the Department of Finance has rejected the county’s bid to retain the money — raises questions about the future of two high-profile projects that have been planned for years.
Funds for the Roseland Village project total $6.6 million, while funds for the Highway 12 project total $9.5 million. These funds, which include nearly $2 million in future tax receipts, were put in limbo after Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved 400 local redevelopment agencies on Feb. 1 to use their funds to help close the state budget gap.
Last week, the state rejected a request by the city of Santa Rosa to keep nearly $35 million in redevelopment project money. It cited similar reasons in a letter sent to the county on Monday, when the state Department of Finance said it had no obligation to fund the projects. The contract agreements between the county and the redevelopment agency it created are “unenforceable obligations,” the state concluded in its letter.
County officials argue that such agreements are permissible under the state legislation that dissolved redevelopment agencies. On Tuesday, Supervisors Efren Carrillo and Valerie Brown, who represent the two redevelopment areas affected, made brief comments voicing regret about the state’s stance.
“We’ve said it time and time again — the state is not going to save money doing this. It’s a state highway for God’s sake,” Carrillo said of Highway 12.
John Haig, the county’s redevelopment manager, said Tuesday the county will continue to appeal the state’s decision.
If the appeal fails, however, a majority of the board has expressed support for finding a different source of money to continue both projects, in some form.
“So it’s up to this board to determine how to carry on,” Brown said.
At the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, board members saw a 5-minute video illustrating the pedestrian and bicycling safety problems along the unimproved section of Highway 12 through The Springs. The video, made by documentary producer Tim Wetzel, shows pedestrians and cyclists dodging each other along the narrow roadway.
“I don’t think there’s ever been anything so visually impactful,” Brown said of the video.
Supporters say the Highway 12 project would improve the underdeveloped infrastructure in the economically distressed area at the northern entrance to Sonoma. Those factors have no impact on the state’s decision to deem the project agreements invalid, the Department of Finance said in its letter to the county.
“Finance is not allowed to make decisions on the basis of economic viability, public safety, or any other socioeconomic factors,” the letter stated.
Both Brown and Carrillo suggested the board will look at ways to continue with the projects, which have been planned for years — in Roseland’s case — and decades in the case of Highway 12.
“You can count on this board to continue to fight the good fight,” Carrillo said.
The board is set to discuss the redevelopment setback at an upcoming meeting several weeks from now.