CITYWIDE — Local redevelopment projects are relatively safe — for now.
After Santa Monica’s Redevelopment Agency wrote a check for the state on May 10, city officials scrambled to soften the blow of losing almost $21 million in funds.
Agencies throughout the state were also forced to cut their own checks, as part of a $2.05 billion raid of redevelopment funds by the state in order to reduce California’s estimated $19 billion budget deficit.
The state maintains that the funds will go a long way towards stabilizing California’s economy, although local dismay has regarded the fund shift as unconstitutional. The California Redevelopment Association immediately filed an appeal against the state which is currently being considered.
The raid itself quickly compromised construction projects, including several in Santa Monica.
City Hall has decided to preserve projects for as long as possible, rather than simply branding them as losses. The agency has limited the amount dedicated to any project to “the minimum cash flow necessary to keep the early planning and design process going forward,” said Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development at City Hall.
As a result, Agle said, in the event that the appeal filed against the state last week is ultimately successful, the agency would not have lost any time in keeping the projects moving forward. However, the appeal could take several months, said Agle, leaving plenty of room for anxiety and doubt in the meantime.
“If we continue to have setbacks and the state continues to take funds,” Agle said, “we’ll need to go back to the City Council and have them further develop a list of spending priorities.”
If that happens, whole projects that fall at the bottom of the list could be cut entirely. Among those that have been affected are the new branch library to serve the Pico Neighborhood, investments in affordable housing that could fund up to 200 additional affordable homes in Santa Monica, traffic signal synchronization on major street corridors, and improvements related to the landmark Civic Auditorium.
The priority for the agency now is essentially to avoid prioritizing and to keep all projects moving forward in their early stages.
Another factor that influences the agency’s progress is a measure that may be on the November ballot later this year.
The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act of 2010 is an initiative that, it was recently announced, has collected 1.1 million signatures, well over the 694,354 valid signatures required to qualify for the ballot as a constitutional amendment.
If enough signatures are verified by the June 24 deadline, the measure will qualify for the ballot and, if passed, will make it much more difficult for the state to borrow, redirect, or otherwise take critical local funds.
The measure is meant to address politicians that “have exploited loopholes in the law and used legally questionable tactics to borrow and raid billions in local government, transit, and redevelopment funds this year alone, and billions in past years,” according to a statement on the measure’s website.
If the initiative is successful, Agle said that it will yield greater protection of funds.
“Though it is not retroactive, the initiative will give us greater confidence in going forward,” Agle said.
Last week the Santa Monica RDA conducted an analysis that revealed that new redevelopment projects are expected to create almost 5,000 full-time-equivalent construction-related jobs. Detailed economic modeling concludes that the projects are expected to promote the creation of over 40,000 full-time equivalent jobs, a boon to a city with a 10.2 percent unemployment rate as of March, according to preliminary government data.