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Council agrees to oversee redevelopment wind-down
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With state law makers dissolving all 400 redevelopment agencies in California, the Ceres City Council decided last month to designate the city as a successor agency of the Ceres Redevelopment Agency.

The city will be able to oversee the day-to-day activities of winding down the activities of the CRA, finishing up projects and paying off bills.

The council also agreed to be the successor agency of the joint powers Stanislaus-Ceres Redevelopment Commission.

Council members appeared leery about taking on the role, given all the "swiss cheese" holes in SB 26.

"This is all unknown right now," said Brian Briggs, the city of Ceres' redevelopment and economic development manager.

Mayor Chris Vierra wanted to known if there are enough funds to handle the winding down of the agency.

"I don't think we'll run short," said Finance Director Sheila Cumberland. She added that the city won't be liable for any debts since the CRA was the one issuing the debt.

California cities and redevelopment agencies fought the dissolution of agencies. The RDA law has been one tool used by cities to collect tax increment and use it for public projects, infrastructure and affordable housing. Cities sued the state over the constitutionality of the matter but on Dec. 29 the California State Supreme Court ruled that the state had the authority to dissolve RDAs in the same way they had authority to start them.

The state allows cities, however, to become "successor agencies" so some follow-up activity may be executed by local decision makers.

Legislation introduced last month in SB 659 extends the dissolution date for all RDAs to today.

Disadvantages of being a successor agency are exposure to liability.

One of the final projects still ongoing through the CRA are an engineering project to improve sewer and storm drain flow down Mitchell Road.

Last year the CRA transferred all assets to the city to keep the state from getting them. Briggs said legislation could result in the state reviewing those transfers and declaring them void. In that case the assets would go back to the CRA and then sold with the proceeds going to the state.

The state action does not affect the Ceres Downtown Revitalization, which is a separate entity.

The action robs Ceres of $25 million in bond proceeds, which were being paid back by a tax increment revenue stream of $8 million annually.

City officials universally condemned the state's and governor's actions as robbing local government coffers to balance the state's budget. At least one citizen, Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd, condemned it as well, saying: "Well the state's done it again and it hasn't even kissed us."

The state and court actions mean Ceres will have no more funds to invest in community infrastructure, specifically on efforts to revitalize downtown Ceres.

"The redevelopment agency will no longer be able to invest in infrastructure necessary to attract development (in downtown Ceres)." said Briggs.

The city used its redevelopment agency to fund the Costa Fields Baseball Complex, the Ceres Community Center and its parking lot and purchase lots in downtown for later development. The agency also set aside 20 percent of its funding for affordable housing opportunities.

Only projects started prior to June 30, 2011 may proceed. Specifically, that means Ceres can continue with plans to improve its sewer system with the $550,000 Barbour lift station on Mitchell Road.