CITY HALL — Bracing for a fight with Sacramento, Santa Monica’s City Council joined a raft of other California cities this week by moving to shore up tens of millions of dollars per year in Redevelopment Agency funding that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed using to help close the state’s multi-billion dollar budget gap.

City officials downplayed the significance of the moves made at Monday’s special council meeting, calling the series of votes “house keeping” measures to clarify technical details of previous agreements between City Hall and the Redevelopment Agency about projects that have been in the works for several years.

But the moves are intended to defend against a possible attempt by the state government to claim nearly $283 million in Redevelopment Agency funds Santa Monica officials have allocated for projects like the proposed Pico Library, the Civic Center-Santa Monica High School joint use project and the Palisades Garden Walk & Town Center.

The Redevelopment Agency receives its funding from property taxes paid on real estate in designated “redevelopment districts” throughout the city. Brown has proposed abolishing redevelopment agencies in order to reclaim the revenue, a move he said would “return billions in property tax revenues to schools, cities and counties and help pay for public safety, education and other services.”

If successful, the move would also force Santa Monica to scrap its highest-profile projects.

In recent days, many cities in the state, including Los Angeles, have sought to set up hasty agreements allocating redevelopment money to specific uses, under the theory that money that’s already spoken for will be harder for Sacramento to reclaim.

Andy Agle, Santa Monica’s director of housing and economic development, said the local Redevelopment Agency has already entered into a “cooperation agreement” with City Hall for all of its pending projects.

The moves on Monday, he said, merely laid out more precise timelines for reimbursements between the agency and City Hall.

“We believe that the cooperation agreement creates a contractual obligation from the agency to the city,” he said, but added there remains a high level of uncertainty surrounding redevelopment funds. “If the governor ended up eliminating redevelopment, I don’t know if the state would agree with [us], which is why we’re concerned that all of these projects could be killed by the governor’s actions.”

The City Council, whose members also sit on the board of the Redevelopment Agency, quickly approved all of the redevelopment items on Monday’s agenda without discussion.

Council members Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver were not at the meeting, but it’s nevertheless clear a solid majority on the council views the redevelopment projects as high priorities.

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said she hopes there’s an “alternative tactic the governor can use to keep form making school cuts” that leaves Redevelopment Agency funds in place.

While redevelopment agencies around the state have been criticized for failing to complete projects and for funding developments of dubious community-wide benefit, she said that’s not the case in Santa Monica.

“These are all very valid projects that will provide jobs to Santa Monica and will improve the quality of life for all Santa Monicans,” she said.

She acknowledged the site slated to become the Pacific Palisades Garden Walk & Town Square project in the Civic Center is a far cry from what most people would call “urban blight,” but defended it as a legitimate use of redevelopment funds.

“Any open space we can add is incredibly valuable,” she said. “Yes, we’re using a high-end architect (James Corner Field Operations), but would Santa Monicans have accepted anything less?”

Councilman Kevin McKeown also defended Santa Monica’s right to spend redevelopment funds on already announced projects.

“Unlike other cities where redevelopment money sits unused, Santa Monica made commitments to residents on needed projects a year and a half ago,” he said. “Monday’s action keeps our promise on the Pico Library, the Samohi campus plan, new parks, and the rehabilitation of affordable housing where possible and construction of new affordable housing where needed.”

nickt@www.smdp.com

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