Ron Kaye: Cities can't wait for state

What started out a year ago as a multibillion-dollar money grab triggered by Gov. Jerry Brown's call to abolish redevelopment agencies statewide now shows every sign of morphing into a power grab.

City managers of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena are just getting over mourning the loss of redevelopment dollars only to find themselves in a chaotic situation of figuring out what to do with the properties they bought and the plans they made for community, infrastructure and commercial improvements — plans that now may be long-delayed or never funded.

The state Legislature provided no road map for how to dismantle redevelopment agencies, so city, county and state officials are making it up as they go along against impossible deadlines for audits, debt payment schedules and the uncertainties of funding.

And then it may all be pointless: A series of bills to resurrect redevelopment from the graveyard of public policy is gaining momentum.

“We've just gone through singing the swan song of redevelopment,” said Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa.

“With the council's adoption of the economic development ordinance, we're turning the page and moving on with many of the same powers to acquire and dispose of property, make loans, to lease, but without the money,” he continued. “We're on to Page 2, and now we see the state is having buyer's remorse with bills to bring back redevelopment winding their way through the Legislature.

“We don't have the time to deal with the state's dysfunction.”

Yes, the governors and legislators who brought you budget deficits of $25 billion, borrowed heavily against your future, endowed public employees with princely pensions and benefits and allowed the state's infrastructure to rot, now are moving forward in their own inimitable way to make abolition of community redevelopment agencies a whole chapter in the history of the decline and fall of the Golden State.

You might think about that before you vote in the June primary to put the public officials who created this and so many other messes back into office to cause even more problems.

City officials have been put into the position of writing budgets in hard times with the added burden of losing much of their redevelopment funding to schools, the county and the state — an $8-million gap for Glendale — and the unpredictability over what is going to happen next.

“They blew up the funding mechanism — the single most damaging decision I've seen in my 22 years in government,” said Burbank City Manager Mike Flad.

“It's not readily apparent to the public how we leverage those dollars with the private sector to create jobs, repair roads, curbs and sidewalks, improve parks and recreation, provide housing, beautify the streetscapes in old commercial corridors — like we planned to do on North San Fernando Road and Victory Boulevard,” he added.

Although each of the tri-cities used its funds in very different ways, redevelopment was critical to reviving Old Pasadena, Brand Boulevard in Glendale and the brown fields Lockheed left behind in Burbank.

Going forward, the cities have created successor agencies to redevelopment and are appointing oversight boards that must include representatives of the schools and the county, as well as the cities, with the ultimate power residing with state officials.

The legislative proposals would take the pressure off having to conduct fire sales to unload properties bought by redevelopment agencies, but they would also include continuous direct oversight and control from above by requiring that joint power agreements be worked out giving the state enormous power over what were once local decisions.

“It's better than nothing, but it's not better than local control,” Flad said. “If the option is retaining local control or not, then I'll take local control. If the option is getting nothing, or the state and county having more control over what we do with the money, then I'll take that.”

Local officials may not have much of a choice in the end, but there's a clear danger in L.A. County officials having agreements with more than 80 cities and being able to leverage their share of what were once local redevelopment funds.

“Naturally, the county is going to be the big dog, and the county is going to look to county issues, as opposed to local issues,” said Philip Lanzafame, Glendale's chief assistant director of community development.

He noted that there was good cooperation with the county on a major project of mutual interest — Disney's massive creative campus in Glendale — but that may not always be the case.

Ochoa said the city already has “turned the page and is going forward,” but expects some “semblance” of redevelopment to be restored.

“We effectively are the piggy bank, the ATM for the state,” he said. “The county can say any time, ‘We're taking this because you only exist because of the [joint powers agreement] with us.' You have to just sit there and take it.”

In the heat of the fall election, Ochoa said he believes the governor and the Legislature will decide that voters have forgotten what they did and cut a deal on redevelopment.

“They have no jobs program, no state economic development program,” Ochoa said. “They'll say, ‘We just killed redevelopment so we'll have to call it something else, like sustainable economic development and housing trust fund.

“We're going forward to do cool, unique things no matter what they do.”

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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