CITY HALL — Facing a tight deadline to get financing matters in order, city officials have released a prioritized list of major construction projects that could receive a chunk of redevelopment money.
The extensive list of projects, which was presented to the City Council last week, contains everything from affordable housing to the joint use facilities at Santa Monica High School to rehabilitation of the Civic Auditorium. Altogether the projects represent $283 million that the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) is expected to have available if it’s able to commit debt obligations by 2014, which it must do in order to access future tax increment funds — earmarked property tax revenue from increases in assessed value. Such funds can be collected through 2042.
No action was taken by the council, which is expected to discuss the RDA funds at a future meeting.
In order to create debt obligations, City Hall must have established a list of projects that are clearly defined, an outcome that would come from holding public hearings with various commissions, conducting an environmental impact report and developing a financing strategy.
“You have roughly 3.5 years to 5.5 years to do a great deal of work,” City Manager Lamont Ewell said during the council meeting.
There are four different redevelopment project areas in the city, the largest of which is the earthquake recovery zone, which consists of buildings that were heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. A portion of property taxes goes to the RDA to use within the project areas.
City Hall has identified about $1.6 billion in capital needs and about $1.27 billion of them are eligible for RDA funding. City officials labeled the debt capacity estimate of $283 million as conservative.
“The source of tax increment is property taxes and in most of the past 20 years, we’ve had pretty strong growth in property taxes,” Andy Agle, the director of housing and economic development, said. “With the current downturn in the economy, one of the areas that has been impacted is property values and since property values is the basis for taxes and property taxes is the basis for tax increment, we’ve had to be conservative in our projection for future growth.”
Perhaps the biggest winner in the priority list are the anticipated projects in the Civic Center area where officials are proposing to allocate approximately $170.8 million between eight different undertakings, the majority of which would go to pay for joint-use opportunities at Santa Monica High School.
The redevelopment of the Samohi campus, which is estimated to cost about $235 million, includes plans to construct facilities that could be accessible to the public during off school hours, including a pedestrian concourse that will travel down Michigan Avenue, cutting through the Samohi campus. Staff is proposing to allocate $46 million in RDA money.
A large contingent of school advocates stayed into the late evening hours to encourage the council to make Samohi the biggest funding priority for the RDA, arguing that the redesigned campus and accompanying facilities will bring the community together.
Among the speakers were a few students, including Max Dorf of Grant Elementary School, who stood before the council wearing his Little League uniform, speaking about the importance of having good fields for sports programs.
“More fields mean more opportunities for kids and adults to play sports,” he said.
Dona Davoodi, the president of the Associated Student Body at Samohi, called the school the “crossroads of the city.”
“We are a school that is a community,” she said. “We are a community that is Santa Monica.”
Laurie Lieberman, a school parent who was also one of the founding members of Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Direction, urged the council to allocate more than $46 million.
“In considering how much to allocate, I urge you to get beyond thinking of this as a Santa Monica High School project and hear what the speakers tonight have been saying, which is this is really a community project that happens to have benefits, one of which is the high school,” she said.
The priority list also proposes allocating $10 million for affordable housing development, $20.9 million toward traffic circulation improvements around the Expo Light Rail station on Colorado Avenue, $28 million toward Downtown parking enhancements, $3.4 million for an early childhood education center at the Civic, and $12.8 million for the creation of a branch library in the Pico Neighborhood.
Pico residents have requested city officials to build a branch library in their neighborhood where there is a high concentration of minority and low-income families. Some have suggested that a public library be included in the plans for the Edison Language Academy redevelopment project.
Christopher Jimenez y West, a Santa Monica resident and professor at the University of Southern California, spoke in support of the library, citing a study that found such facilities build spaces for telling stories and sharing history.
“It offers an opportunity to create an archive, a repository, a museum, a place to tell stories, a place to share stories,” he said.