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Redevelopment projects killed by state actions
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Even though there's sunny skies today, the future of the Ceres Redevelopment Agency has an ominously dark and thick storm cloud covering it.

Legislation enacted June 30 by the state of California officially dissolves redevelopment agencies in California as of Oct. 1.


The state has given cities the option of keeping their RDAs going if they "voluntarily make a payment," which is computed at $1.7 million for Ceres, said City Attorney Michael Lyions.

The recent state grab is also being challenged in court by the League of California Cities that insists the action is unconstitutional.

Lyions and other city officials are seeking to make sense of Gov. Jerry Brown's assault on RDAs and the taking of billions up and down the state. They are assembling a staff report to the council which will be reviewed on Aug. 8.

Mayor Chris Vierra said the council and community needs to look at "do we want to pay this extortion fee of upwards of a million dollars to basically do anything or do we just cut our losses and be done?"

Ceres stands to lose $18 million and a vast number of opportunities in the future to see publicly funded improvements.

"It's devastating to communities like Ceres," said Lyions. "Look around to see what we've done, what we wouldn't have such as fire stations and a community center."

The CRA has also funded improvements to the George Costa Baseball Complex in Smyrna Park, helped create and preserve affordable housing such as the senior apartment complex on Blaker Road, and improved the appearance of Richland Shopping Center through a $1 million rehabilitation loan.

Upon the signing of budget bills on June 30, all RDA agencies were officially suspended.

"We can't do any more bond financing or making any new contracts or loaning any money except you can go forward with your normal operations in terms of projects that you have ongoing," said Lyions.

The state is allowing RDAs to continue executing legal and enforceable contractual obligations. That means the CRA can continue with its plans to use redevelopment funds on the paving of a community center parking lot for which a contract was issued earlier this year.

City officials in California have been scrambling to protect RDA resources since the new governor - who cited cases of RDA abuses - signaled that he wanted to dismantle agencies to take their funds for the financially mismanaged state. Brown's plan called for transferring all properties owned by RDAs to the state to be sold. The Ceres Redevelopment Agency met and hastily transferred properties owned by the agency to the city. The list included the Daniel Whitmore Home and various vacant lots in downtown Ceres. However, the state noticed the actions of cities like Ceres and enacted legislation that would nullify any transfers made after Jan. 1. That means CRA owned properties - including the Daniel Whitmore Home - may be seized by the state.

The city had owned the historic home on Fifth Street prior to 2009 when the council "sold" it to the Ceres Redevelopment Agency so that the city could use $374,000 in CRA funds for city purposes. Those proceeds are being used to operate the Ceres Community Center since it is operating at a deficit. Officials at the time had no idea that two years later the state would be attempting to seize all RDA properties.

The state's actions come at an unfortunate time for Ceres officials, who were hoping to use unspent redevelopment funds to buy leftover property from Caltrans as part of the Whitmore /99 interchange. The city wants to rezone and eliminate the Lazy Wheels Mobilehome Park to package with adjacent vacant parcels opposite Ceres High School to be developed for freeway commercial uses to would expand Ceres' tax base.