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Citizens to Advise on CRA’s Recovery Role

In the latest effort to quell nervousness over the City Redevelopment Agency joining earthquake recovery efforts, City Councilman Hal Bernson has convened a 20-member citizen committee to make recommendations on how and where the agency should be involved.

City plans call for the CRA--operating under disaster provisions of the state redevelopment law--to use property taxes in certain districts to pay for quake-related improvements, a method known as tax-increment financing.

Bernson’s panel, which has met twice, will submit recommendations to the City Council on what should be the role of the CRA.

The Council is scheduled to vote on a plan in October.

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“There’s a public perception problem with the CRA,” said Greig Smith, Bernson’s chief of staff, and so Bernson is being “very cautious” and seeking input from a committee made up of CRA supporters, detractors and relatively unbiased community members.

Council members Zev Yaroslavsky and Laura Chick have been holding public meetings on the topic for similar reasons.

“We want to take the temperature of the public to see how they react,” Yaroslavsky said earlier this month.

The CRA has taken considerable heat--and even death threats--over both the tax-increment financing of its operation and its use of eminent domain powers during past projects.

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Those powers allow the agency to condemn private land in redevelopment areas to make way for improvements.

Walter Prince, longtime CRA critic and a member of Bernson’s committee, said, “What you can’t do is let them take over the whole community.”

John Spalding, director of policy planning at the CRA, pointed out that under the disaster provisions of redevelopment laws, the agency can condemn private property only in cases of abandonment or extreme disrepair.

“They’re not typical redevelopment plans,” he said of those being studied for earthquake recovery. “We’re not there to make major changes in the neighborhood.”

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While Bernson’s committee debates and other Valley council members hold hearings, the CRA is not hammering out its plan behind closed doors.

Officials currently are discussing proposals with community leaders, Spalding said, and the agency plans to hold its own public meetings beginning in September.


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