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Abuses aided state in killing off RDAs
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Redevelopment is dead in California.

Blame two sets of people for that. The first group - those in Sacramento who ran the state's financial ship into the rocks and decided to make local government pay for the damage caused by their irresponsibility. The second group is the elected officials and bureaucrats, the very boards which both spent redevelopment money like drunken sailors on pet projects and were more tight-fisted about using dollars meant for low- and moderate-income housing.

That's right. Questionable spending gave Jerry Brown ammo for the complete dismantling of a huge economic tool that was used by over 400 cities, including Ceres.

Few citizens understand how redevelopment even worked. Basically, redevelopment agencies were the invention of Sacramento 35 years ago to enable tax dollars to be siphoned from general government purposes to be spent on special projects designed to reduce blight in communities in California. Here's how it worked. A city council would drew boundaries around older or run-down areas, and "freeze" the tax base. Any growth in dollars above the frozen level - called "tax increment" - was sent to the RDA on community improvements. Vacant lots were filled, buildings were improved or constructed, infrastructure improvements and public projects accomplished.

In some cases, RDA money was loaned out to private parties for the improvement of shopping districts.

That, in a paragraph, is what RDA is all about.

Officials were eager to build the sexy projects but less eager to spend the 20 percent of RDA money earmarked for affordable housing.

Unless you've been in a cave and haven't heard, Brown and the Democrats took on the role of desperate pirates and passed a law late last year to load up the booty. RDAs were dissolved as of Feb. 1.

City officials throughout California are crying like babies whose candy was taken.

I see their point. RDA was a great tool to do great things. In Ceres, RDA made the Ceres Community Center a reality as well as projects like Costa Fields baseball fields renovation, and Whitmore Oaks senior apartments. A large number of public infrastructure projects were also funded.

However, state officials, seeing shrinking tax revenues, started taking notice to the unused stockpiles of RDA cash. Abuses were occurring in communities where affordable housing dollars were being hoarded and not used. In 1999 Gov. Pete Wilson was questioning the stockpiling of dollars in RDAs.

There were instances when I shook my head at deals in Ceres that may have been legal but were a "stretch" in reducing blight. For starters, spending over $400,000 to re-roof the police department with energy-saving materials? How is that reducing blight? The council and CRA board (one in the same) justified the expense in this way: By having RDA money spent on the roof, the city saves future electrical dollars which could be spent on cop salaries which in turn keeps down crime which in turn reduces blight. That's a major stretch since I don't remember hearing the city say they'd layoff cops in order to pay for a new roof.

In 2009, when the city opened the Ceres Community Center and projected three consecutive years of running the center $100,000 in the red, the city engaged in a pea-in-shell game with RDA monies. How did they do it since RDA funds couldn't be used on operations? Then City Manager Brad Kilger had the CRA "buy" the historic Daniel Whitmore Home from the city for $375,000 so that the city could then use that money to cover community center operational deficits for three years.

Again, while that may have been legal, I believe that was more about channeling RDA funds into the city general fund coffers than about reducing blight.

But it's all gone now but cities need to shoulder their share of the blame for the raiding that just took place.

Redevelopment money was never "free" money. It was always tax money that was taken from those hard working Californians who give up a share of their earnings.

Now it looks as though the task of eliminating blight will belong to the private sector, which is probably where it belonged in the first place.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at