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California budget runs risk of killing off redevelopment agencies

Streetscape could go forward in a different way, committee member says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Although Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the proposed state Democratic budget Thursday, potential threats still hang in the air for Auburn. Brown has said in the past that he wants to dissolve all redevelopment agencies in the state, seizing any remaining funds. In the Legislature’s budget, passed Wednesday, Assembly Bill 26x would have done just that. Although Brown vetoed the budget, Auburn Councilman Kevin Hanley said the risk is still there that the Auburn Urban Development Authority may no longer exist in the future. Redevelopment funds in Auburn have been used for a number of things, such as Streetscape Phase I, focused on Central Square, and the current Phase II of Streetscape, which runs from the edge of Central Square to Pine Street on Lincoln Way. These funds have also gone toward projects such as improvements for the Old City Hall and the Old Town Auburn Firehouse. “Redevelopment provided a funding source without raising taxes, but it continued to improve and beautify the city,” said City Manager Bob Richardson Thursday morning before the veto. “And although the city has just started this process in the last several years, there have been many successes. It has helped Project Auburns, the State Theater and Central Square. We have updated an awful lot of infrastructure, renovated the Old Town Firehouse and the monument signs on the freeway. Those are just a few of the projects the community’s done with the redevelopment agency.” Richardson said even if a budget was passed by the Legislature and the governor that included the termination of redevelopment agencies, the League of California Cities and the California Redevelopment Association would bring lawsuits against the state government. “Therefore, I believe it will be some time before we know if in fact redevelopment will be ending or not,” Richardson said. Hanley said in November Placer County voters approved Proposition 22, which prohibits the state government from taking redevelopment agency money and transferring it to the state. He said the Legislature’s approval of AB 26x was going “against the clear will of the voters.” Richardson said Proposition 22 is not the only legislation that raises this scenario. “There are a myriad of similar kinds of issues that appear to prohibit the state from eliminating the agencies,” Richardson said. “They have diverted funds for several years and only some of those attempts have proven to be legal.” Richardson said even if the governor approves a budget that includes getting rid of the agencies, the projects that have already started in Auburn, such as Streetscape Phase II, will continue because they are under construction contract. Harvey Roper, owner of Roper’s Jewelers, who serves on the Streetscape History and Art Advisory Committee and is a member of the Downtown Business Association, said Thursday before the veto that the committee won’t give up when it comes to future Streetscape phases, even if redevelopment funds are gone. “We have the vision as to what we want to accomplish, and if they close the redevelopment agencies that was the tool that we used to get there and hopefully another tool will become available,” Roper said. “We don’t know what it looks like yet. But hopefully one will become available to continue this program. We knew it was a long-term project to begin with, so if we complete all the phases in 20 years, I would be thrilled.” Roper said even if a Leadership Auburn project were to be something like placing a bench in one of the future phases of Streetscape, it could still keep the bench in theme with that particular phase. Auburn resident Loretta Fleurs said she doesn’t think the city needs a redevelopment agency to fund projects like Streetscape. “My feeling is now that they have done (Phase I and Phase II), they don’t need any more,” Fleurs said. “They have it. They have done it. The money probably could be used elsewhere.” Auburn resident Deborah Austin said she thinks redevelopment agencies are important because projects like Streetscape are good for the community. “I do feel (redevelopment agencies) should be involved and the governor should keep his nose out of it,” Austin said. “I think Streetscape and those type of community things are good for the ambience of the community and keeping the community together.” Auburn resident Alice Dashiell said she thinks redevelopment agencies are great, but only in certain times. “I think they should continue in good times,” Dashiell said. “In financially difficult times as now, they need to be put on hold. The money could be used differently.” Hanley said another part of losing the redevelopment agency would also be selling a 12-acre parcel of land off Blocker Drive near the railroad station, because the land is owned by the Auburn Urban Development Authority. Hanley said some government entities use redevelopment agencies to carry out eminent domain by buying out small businesses in favor of big corporation stores or car dealerships, but Auburn passed a law in 2007 preventing itself from using eminent domain in an abusive way. Hanley said he doesn’t think Auburn should suffer because of the actions of other agencies. Richardson said he is happy the current redevelopment projects are already in contract so the funds won’t be taken away. “I think the staff has done a terrific job getting these projects ready to go and will be able to provide at least one more round of improvements for the community should redevelopment in fact be terminated,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com