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City could lose historic home, lot to state
Whitmore house
The Daniel Whitmore House, Ceres first, could be forfeited to the state since redevelopment agency funds were used to "buy" it from the city. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The fate of several properties in Ceres which were purchased with redevelopment monies is still unknown and could be taken by the state.

On July 28 the Ceres City Council sat as the board of the successor agency to the former Ceres Redevelopment Agency. The only action that evening was accepted the forced transfer of properties from the city to the agency.

Under the direction of Gov. Jerry Brown, the state dissolved redevelopment agencies in California and grabbed the cash in an effort to make up the state's budget deficit. The state also wanted all properties owned by the city that were paid for by redevelopment funds.

The city of Ceres grant deeded several pieces of property to the former Ceres Redevelopment Agency. They include the Daniel Whitmore home, the Ceres Museum building, the Community Center parking lot at the northwest corner of Fourth and North streets, a vacant parcel at the southeast corner of Lawrence and Fifth streets, a house at 3012 Fifth Street, and a vacant lot at 2912 Fourth Street.

When Brown announced that he was going to get rid of redevelopment agencies through legislation, a number of cities and their RDAs made a scramble to transfer properties away from RDAs to city possession. Ceres made its transfers on March 14, 2011. The state wised up to what cities were doing and the California State Supreme Court upheld ABX 126 and ruled that properties transferred after Jan. 1, 2011 must be given back.

The State Department of Finance will ultimately decide if Ceres can keep the properties for governmental purposes.

"Staff believes that a strong case can be made for the retention of the Daniel Whitmore Home and Museum," read a memo written to the council by City Attorney Mike Lyions and Redevelopment and Economic Development Manager Steve Hallam. "Retention of a portion of the Community Center parking lot will be dependent upon assuring the Department of Finance that the entire parking lot was intended and necessary for use by the Community Center."

Lyions said the city may have a tough case to convince the state to keep vacant lots purchased by the redevelopment agency for controlling what is commercially developed on them.

City Manager Toby Wells said the long-range management plan calls for the state to sell of the properties.

"Most likely most of the properties will have to be sold and the revenue from that sale will go back to the state," said Wells.

Mayor Chris Vierra asked what will happen if the state sells off the Community Center parking lot and the city no longer has use of the lot. Wells replied: "That's a really good question."

Lyions said the city has a strong case for keeping the parcels used by the public.