By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sacramento County judge has issued a final ruling in favor of Sonoma County’s bid to complete its two largest redevelopment projects — the long-planned Highway 12 street and sidewalk upgrades north of Sonoma and the proposed residential and commercial complex at an abandoned shopping center in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood.
The county sued the state of California in January after finance officials in Sacramento determined that $14 million in funding for the two projects was subject to redistribution to other taxing agencies.
But Judge Eugene Balonon on Wednesday affirmed his tentative ruling from last month, saying the county’s contracts to complete the projects were valid and that the state had abused its authority by essentially demanding the county give up money allocated for the work.
The state is planning to appeal, according to a California Department of Finance spokesman. That means the case and others challenging the state’s closure of redevelopment agencies could be decided by a higher court.
The ruling, if it is upheld, should shield at least half the projects’ funding — $7.3 million in future tax receipts — from redistribution. The county’s bid to use the other portion of the funding, about $6.8 million in accrued cash for the projects, is part of a second, related lawsuit that doesn’t go to court until May.
In the meantime, the county is moving ahead with both projects, using money allocated this year by the Board of Supervisors from the county general fund.
Kathleen Kane, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission, which oversaw the county’s former redevelopment agencies, said she felt “vindicated and very optimistic” about the county’s legal case.
The county’s fight is among the roughly 120 lawsuits filed by cities and counties across the state seeking to hold onto tax dollars allocated for redevelopment efforts.
State law directing an end redevelopment early last year was meant to free up tax dollars for other public needs and to end cases of redevelopment waste and abuse.
But county officials and advocates in Sonoma and Roseland have argued the two local projects are good uses of tax dollars, aimed at improving infrastructure and revitalizing underserved areas.
Soil cleanup and other environmental mitigation for the Roseland project could begin this year, pending authorization of a contract Sept. 24 by the Board of Supervisors.
The next stage of Highway 12 work is to start next spring. The county said it will turn in final design plans to Caltrans for review next week.
(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)