Ron Kaye: Will this election bring change, or status quo?

Before you mark your ballot in Tuesday's election, think about what the governor and Legislature have wrought by killing redevelopment agencies without a clear plan on how the $5 billion a year in taxes flowing to them will be split, or how and when the billions in their debts will be paid off.

The result has been months of chaotic and costly wrangling over the complexities of contracts, bonds and property that has left city officials across California, already grappling with their own budget deficits, bewildered and frustrated by the uncertainty of how much money they will have left after redevelopment funds are distributed to schools, colleges, counties and the state.

On Friday, the state's financial sledgehammer fell with the “recognized obligation payment” schedules taking effect for the July 1 to Dec. 31 period, even though billions of dollars are still in dispute.

Glendale, Pasadena and other cities went to court to delay enforcement, but the judge refused when L.A. County officials promised to pay them their share of redevelopment money, payments that will come in the form of warrants — IOUs — redeemable at some undetermined later date.

None of this sits well with local officials like Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa, who sees what the state is doing as a direct assault on cities, stripping them of much of their ability to make the critical decisions about how your local tax dollars are spent for the benefit of your community, your economy, your quality of life, your hopes for the future.

“It is total chaos. This started out as a money grab and somehow morphed into something else that nobody knows what it is or where it leads,” he said after being rebuffed in court.

“Cities are the last independent bastion of local control. The beauty of cities is they can actually get things done. We're closer to the people and, generally speaking, are much better run than any other level of government. If all the purse strings go back to the state of California, are we better off? Counties, just like the schools, are not better off being beholden to the state for their funding and policies.”

Back in January of last year when I was offered the chance to write this column, my first stops were to the offices of the Burbank and Glendale city managers, where I had conversations that led me to write the column headlined, “Trouble in Paradise.”

It was right at that time that Gov. Jerry Brown dropped his bombshell: Faced with a monumental budget deficit, he wanted to abolish community redevelopment agencies across the state so the property tax revenues that funded them would come to the state — revenues that cities were using to fund public works projects and economic development.

“Kumbaya, that's the attitude of a lot of people,” Burbank City Manager Mike Flad said, observing that public complacency was enemy No. 1. “We can do better.”

“Quality-of-life issues are our focus,” said Glendale Assistant City Manager Yasmin Beers, “Jobs, arts, culture, recreation — public participation is paramount as we move forward.”

Flash forward to last week and I'm sitting with Ochoa, Beers and redevelopment head Philip Lanzafame, trying to understand what has happened in the 18 months since the governor sought to kill community redevelopment agencies.

About half of Glendale's $15-million budget deficit is caused by the loss of redevelopment money; 26 jobs directly involved in redevelopment have been eliminated, and the state has rejected repayment of the $6 million loaned from the General Fund to the redevelopment agency, as well as the $3 million set aside for affordable housing.

State officials keep changing the rules that they are making up as they go along.

“It's all or nothing, deny, deny, deny, and then they approve something without rhyme or reason,” Lanzafame said.

Added Ochoa: “We're going through all of these gyrations and exotic dances and it's going to get tied up in the courts a long time. They would have been better off just saying how much money Glendale and every other city needed to give.”

What is so symptomatic of what has gone wrong in the state is that instead of stopping the abuses involving redevelopment programs, and there were many, they still haven't come close to solving the budget crisis or designed a job-creation and economic-development program to replace what they eliminated.

Some say the silver lining might be that this actually could lead to the bottoming out of the dysfunctional governance of this state, that we are finally seeing that the gears of government are seizing up in California.

Sometimes things do have to get worse before they get better. How much worse depends a lot on how you vote in Tuesday's election, whether you vote for the status quo or you vote for change.

RON KAYE can be reached at kayeron@aol.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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