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Brown budget plans threaten Auburn, Hwy. 49 streetscape projects

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Redevelopment money has constructed a revitalized Downtown Auburn Streetscape and dressed up the Bell Road-Highway 49 intersection in North Auburn. But state Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for austerity at the state level is also sounding a warning knell to Placer County and Auburn redevelopment districts. What has been a steady stream of money to spruce up areas designated as down-at-the-heels business districts could dry up. And that could happen as soon as July. Elected in November, Brown is proposing a list of budget-balancing tactics that includes elimination of redevelopment agencies. A presence in most California cities and counties, there are more than 400 around the state. The 14-year-old Placer County Redevelopment Agency collected a net of about $6.4 million in property tax revenue this past year. It has leveraged that money and funding from past years into a $45 million annual budget. The North Auburn-Highway 49 redevelopment project list this year includes nearly $1 million spent on road and pedestrian improvements at the Bell Road intersection. Jim LoBue, redevelopment agency deputy director, said plans along the Highway 49 corridor call for extending a Streetscape improvement project along a 2-mile stretch from Nevada Street to Dry Creek Road. The next phase is now in final design to spend about $1 million on sidewalks and Streetscape improvements from the south end of Rock Creek Plaza, near Bell Road, to New Airport Road. Plans have been to continue improvements along the corridor as more funding becomes available, he said. In total, the Brown proposal would move property tax increments worth $1.7 billion a year from all development agencies to state coffers starting July 1. “That would target our primary revenue source,” LoBue said. “It’s a serious threat but we’re early in the process.” Downtown Auburn now boasts new sidewalks, streetlights, a fire pit and other amenities with the completion this past year of the city redevelopment district’s $2 million first phase of a projected $12 million Streetscape project. Auburn Mayor Bill Kirby said that the second phase is already on hold because of reduced revenues. If redevelopment funds are not available, Kirby said there would be no alternative funding source to proceed. A Streetscape supporter, Kirby said that he also understands that the state budget is in crisis. “In good times, redevelopment makes sense,” Kirby said. “But overall, you have to look at the bigger picture. The state needs to make draconian changes and while people are saying they don’t want them in their backyard, they have to be in everybody’s backyard.” Brown said last week that if voters during a special election in June approve a measure to continue increases in income, sales and vehicle taxes for five years, revenues generated from the sales tax and vehicle license fees would go to local governments to help pay for changes that include shifting more responsibilities to cities and counties. Both tax increases are set to expire in July. Brown’s plans are an attempt to close an 18-month budget gap of $25.4 billion. The Associated Press contributed to this report.