Thursday, March 31, 2011

Impact of redevelopment agencies discussed in Fairfield

By Kimberly K. Fu/

Posted: 03/31/2011 01:05:54 AM PDT

Looks like the end of redevelopment agencies may be near -- and local communities will be the ones to suffer.

"Where we go from here is a rough ride," emphasized Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council and keynote speaker at Wednesday's meeting of the Solano Economic Development Corporation in Fairfield.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown announced plans to eliminate the 400 redevelopment agencies in California and redistribute the money to help close the multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The $2.5 billion in funding -- an estimated $84.2 million in Solano County -- supposedly would support education and public safety, with a portion returned to affected cities through their General Fund accounts to be spent at each city's discretion.

In quick order, Solano leaders and those throughout the state rose up in protest. They encumbered redevelopment funds and assets, transferring ownership of many redevelopment properties into the hands of their respective cities. Unfortunately, the governor later enacted legislation that could repeal such acts.

If Brown's objective is carried out, redevelopment agencies will cease to exist as of July 1.

All is not yet lost, advised Fairfield City Attorney Greg Stepanicich on Wednesday, explaining that the California Redevelopment Association has penned a viable compromise that provides additional funding for schools. An estimated $2.7 billion, he said, could be raised over 10 years.

Suzanne Bragdon, city manager of Suisun City, said the impact from losing redevelopment funding would be disastrous for her community. It's come a long way from being voted the Bay Area's worst place to live in 1987, she said, with $65 million invested to fix blight and become a dining and entertainment destination.

"We're about building places that are healthy and safe for you to live," Bragdon said, pointing out that more than 300 affordable housing units have since been built, businesses have flocked to the city and its waterfront, and crime rates have fallen 60 percent since the late 1980s.

"We had the worst economic meltdown anywhere and look at all the development that's happened," she said, indicating images of the city's revamped Crescent neighborhood, new neighborhoods created with redevelopment funding and more.

"Am I scared if redevelopment goes away? Absolutely," Bragdon added. "I don't want Suisun City to end up like it was in the 1980s. And I am truly afraid of that."

Decisions, Wunderman pointed out, are being made in a "climate of desperation." He described redevelopment as an amazing economic development tool that should be preserved. Perhaps, he suggested, the state could instead enforce tighter restrictions on redevelopment agencies or tie in funding to support California's laws regarding greenhouses gas emissions.

"Maybe we need to rethink the way we provide services to the community. That's where we're headed," he said. "...We all have to give. It's not just the state government -- The federal government isn't coming to our rescue here."