The state legislature passed two bills last Wednesday that, if signed by Governor Brown, would effectively eliminate redevelopment agencies unless local money was used to finance a portion of the $1.7 billion cost to the state.
Santa Clarita’s redevelopment agency – created in 1989 and responsible for the revitalization of downtown Newhall – is one of the agencies that would face potential elimination if the bills are signed into law. However, debate has surfaced over the constitutionality of these bills – in regards to the state constitution – and the California Redevelopment Association has said it will pursue a suit against the state if the bills become law.
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Michael Murphy, Intergovernmental Relations Officer for the City of Santa Clarita, outlined these constitutional problems. Murphy said if the bills are signed by Brown they could be in violation of state procedural policy as well as Proposition 22, which passed last November and called for the protection of local funds from intrusion by the state government.
“Since the governor vetoed the main budget bills last week, and the redevelopment legislation bills are budget trailers tied to the budget, there is a constitutional question as to whether or not these bills can be acted upon by the governor.” Murphy said. “The elimination of redevelopment is also viewed as an unconstitutional violation of prop. 22. The governor is operating on the theory that if you eliminate the agencies, then they are no longer protected by constitution.”
The two bills, according to Murphy, are in the enrollment phase in the legislative process, meaning they have been passed by the Senate and the Assembly but have not been sent to the governor.
Armine Chaparyan, Redevelopment Manager for the city of Santa Clarita, said the Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency has been instrumental in the development of downtown Newhall and in creating a vibrant new commercial area.
“We adopted a specific plan which envisioned the future of the downtown area as urban and pedestrian friendly,” Chaparyan said. “We wanted a downtown area that would help reenergize business there and improve infrastructure. We’ve been very active in implementing this specific plan and making other improvements in the area to help overall growth.”
The agency has achieved many accomplishments in the area including streetscape improvement, the building of the Metrolink station, building the Newhall community center, completing a road realignment project, readjusting traffic flows as well as designing, and now constructing, a new public library in the area.
While the first of the two bills calls for the elimination of the agencies, the second would allow redevelopment agencies to continue operating if they were able to meet a portion of their budget with local funds. City officials are still in the process of determining the exact amount that would be required to maintain the local agency.
Gail Ortiz, Communications Manager for the City of Santa Clarita, called the proposed legislation a “pay-to-play scam” while Murphy referred to the option of using local funds to fill the $1.7 billion budget gap as “voluntary extortion.”
Tom Hart, Deputy Director for the California Redevelopment Association, said the association, with 360 of the 400 statewide redevelopment agencies as members, plans to bring a lawsuit against the state in the event that the legislation is signed by Governor Brown.
“We provide advocacy and continuing education for our members.” Hart said. “We will be going to the courts on the basis that the legislation is unconstitutional.”
Governor Brown has said in the past that he supports the elimination of the redevelopment agencies. The decision over when to release the bill to the governor for a signature lies with the Speaker of the California State Assembly, John A. Pérez, and is expected to be made sometime this week.