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City to Brown: Hands off our RDA
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California Gov. Jerry Brown has signaled to California cities that he wants their redevelopment funds. During an emergency session held Friday, Ceres City Council members took a drastic emergency measure to commit $5.3 million in projects to pre-empt any possible state seizure of those funds.

In a bold - and legally questionable - move, Brown wants to abolish redevelopment agencies statewide in order to take uncommitted dollars to help erase the state's massive multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. His proposal, if the state Legislature signs on, would take effect in time for the crafting of the 2011-12 budget.

City Attorney Michael Lyions said he doesn't believe the state has the constitutional authority to seize what's not theirs but suggested committing Ceres' RDA funds as a backup measure to protecting them. Lyions said that Propositions 1a and 22 passed by the voters were intended to shield redevelopment funds from state grabs.

Other cities in California are taking similar actions.

In a 4-0 vote, the council - also acting as the RDA board - voted to commit funding to a slough of city projects approved in 2008 as part of the Capital Improvement Project program. Friday's action also assigns a specific dollar amount to each item.

The grand total of $5,299,250 is greater than the Ceres Redevelopment Agency's available cash pool of $4.5 million, said Finance Director Sheila Cumberland.

The most expensive item is the $1.9 million River Bluff Park above-ground reservoir, followed by $633,000 in street and alley improvements. Another big ticket item is entryway treatments and signage for downtown Ceres at a cost of $600,000. Other items are:

• A commercial rehabilitation program, $440,000;

• Constructing Smyrna Park restrooms, $375,000;

• Expansion of wastewater treatment plant pond #3, 258,750;

• A general plan update and EIR, $250,000;

• Sewer rehabilitation and replacement, $250,000;

• Developing a park master plan, $125,000;

• Coming up with a business marketing and recruitment package, $75,000;

• Designing the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, $70,000;

• GIS system, $67,000;

• Repairing sidewalks in the older parts of Ceres, $65,000;

• Building a covered parking area for the Ceres Police Department lot, $62,500;

• Wheelchair ramps, $50,000.

• Improvements to Strawberry Fields Park, $42,000.

• Updating an advanced Traffic Management System, $36,000.

"The idea," said City Attorney Michael Lyions, "is to contractually commit those agency resources to those projects in case things go bad."

He added: "There's nothing wrong with the cities hedging the bet."

Lyions noted that the list could be amended at a later date, especially if the city proceeds with plans to buy a number of specific projects in downtown Ceres with the intent of redeveloping downtown.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he wanted the city to act on an emergency basis on Friday pending possible action the following Monday. He said the list is not perfect but acknowledged "the rug is being pulled out from underneath us."

"I believe in protecting as much of our redevelopment agency and all of the jobs that come with that," said Vierra.

He suggested seeking requests for proposals on the project list and work towards contracts.

Councilman Bret Durossette wondered if the state could shut the projects down if they were to begin, to which Lyions answered that the contracts would have to be honored.

Vice Mayor Ken Lane said Brown was looking to collect funds which RDAs are sitting on as uncommitted.