You hosted a rally to “keep funds local” on Feb. 15, where the state’s plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies was discussed. What projects has the county’s redevelopment agency brought to fruition in your district? What sort of comments did you get from constituents who attended the event?
Over the last 24 years, the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) has made it possible for Live Oak and Soquel to have sidewalks, curbs, gutters and adequate drainage in our neighborhoods. RDA funds have been used to build the Simpkins Swim Center, the Live Oak Library, the Animal Services shelter and parks such as Anna Jean Cummings and Brommer. County redevelopment funds have also been the single largest source of funding for affordable housing, providing $47 million to construct more than 1,300 units of affordable housing throughout the county.
On Feb. 15 more than 200 community members came out to support community investments made by the Redevelopment Agency. Kids, parents, seniors, manufactured home residents, teachers, deputies and others came to tell the Board of Supervisors that they value previous RDA investments and to identify which projects they hope to see completed in the future. People recognize what a difference this source of funding has made and know what is at stake for the most urbanized part of the unincorporated part of our county.
The Board of Supervisors approved funds for several redevelopment projects at
their Feb. 15 meeting. What was the message of these actions? What will and can the board do to protect those projects into the future?
The governor’s proposal to eliminate all redevelopment agencies is extremely problematic because it lumps all 420 redevelopment agencies into one group. There are many well known abuses by RDAs across the state—sweetheart deals with developers, NFL stadium deals, and using RDA funds in other inappropriate ways. In Santa Cruz County we have used RDA funds to support basic infrastructure improvements in increasingly urbanized areas where there had been historic disinvestment. Our county RDA has done an exemplary job of protecting its partners in education, public safety and the library by making a commitment from the onset of passing through property tax dollars that could have been kept by the RDA. Our RDA made a conscious choice to pass these dollars through to these partners.
Our Board has taken steps to protect funding for projects identified by the community in the Five Year Implementation Plan. When I assumed office in 2009, I encouraged our RDA to reach out to the public to find out how we should spend their tax money. It was a successful grassroots effort in which over 500 people participated and identified five key areas (in no particular order): facilities for young people, housing, economic vitality, safe routes for biking and walking, and public safety. The priorities that came out of this community process include a youth facility, support for a rail trail, hiring an economic development manager and construction of a sheriff’s facility. The RDA is currently considering a partnership with the Live Oak School District and the Boys & Girls Club to build a new club in Live Oak. The RDA is also considering partnering with Central Fire when they are ready to move their station out of the flood plain in Soquel: RDA can potentially redevelop their current site to promote good economic development in Soquel Village.
The actions our Board has taken to approve funding for several redevelopment projects does not guarantee that we will protect these projects from a raid on our funding. It was the most that we could do to honor the community’s wishes as expressed through the five-year planning process, as well as the voices of the hundreds who have come out to our board meetings seeking to preserve this funding.
I know that for some it can be difficult to understand how a tool like RDA benefits residents throughout the county. But for every dollar the General Fund loses, RDA gets three. Even though most RDA dollars are invested in the RDA project area (affordable housing funds can be spent county-wide), general fund monies are then freed up for needs outside the project area (e.g. roads). If the governor’s proposal is successful, Santa Cruz County will have significantly fewer resources but many of the same (if not more) responsibilities.