Cities try to secure redevelopment money before it disappears

January 18, 2011 8:01:25 PM PST
In the California budget crisis, cities across the state are trying to protect money for various projects that they were promised by Sacramento. The basic strategy is to spend it before they take it.

The governor laid down a gauntlet last week when he proposed vaporizing redevelopment agencies by eliminating $1.7 billion in funding. Fremont's City Manager Fred Diaz says the city mobilized quickly and called a special meeting.

"You don't go against a governor and the state of California in a process of warfare, but I think we came up with up with a sound strategy to move our projects forward," says Diaz.

The legal maneuver is based on the idea that any redevelopment money already committed to a contract can't be taken away. Fremont's preemptive strike Monday night commits $121 million to six projects already in the works. The bulk of the money, $108 million, is to build the Irvington BART station. The city says that transit project has been in development for two years and is something that will benefit the entire region.

"It just seemed prudent and the just thing to do is to move the projects up by several months and obligate them in other words to protect them for the community," says redevelopment director Elisa Tierney.

There are 398 active redevelopment agencies around the state. A handful of them including Fremont have taken emergency action and many more are in the process, including Long Beach.

San Jose, which has one of the largest redevelopment agencies in the country, just announced its own emergency session to be held late Wednesday afternoon. At the same time there are rumors the legislature may try to invalidate or freeze this last minute flurry of activity.

"We're hoping for the best. It was a good strategy. Whether or not it takes, we're not sure, but we didn't want to have any regrets by not doing it," says Diaz.

The only sure bet, this Hail Mary pass in the budget deficit debate is not the last political play.