|CRA Board representatives in action|
On April 11 of 2011 we posted an article here on The Tattler called "Sierra Madre City Council Redevelopment Agency Spend-A-Thon." This is how we explained it all back then (click here):
Sacramento, finding itself awash in $26 billion dollars of debt, can no longer afford to have vast quantities of its property tax grab placed into the hands of individual cities so that they can help local developers build strip malls and mixed use condominium projects. When the state was flush with cash such things could exist. Back then there was cash enough for everything. Even development slush fund reserves were considered affordable. But things have changed and that time has now passed us by. There is no more money left for such things.
With the bitter end of Redevelopment Agencies only a matter of time now, many cities across California have taken it upon themselves to spend as much of their remaining CRA cash as possible before Sacramento takes it all away. The hope being that by "encumbering" this money each City will be able to use it before they lose it. There are no guarantees that this will work, however, as the State has generated some legislation designed to short circuit such a stratagem. But whatever the circumstances may eventually be, Tuesday evening more than $2,900,000 million big ones will be approved for 11 CRA projects in Sierra Madre. Some worthy, some marginally so, but others flat out ridiculous.
Stalwart, brave and true City Council watchers may recall this particular meeting. It was the one where Councilman Moran kept repeating the word "encumber" over and over again like Polly who wanted a cracker. You may also recall that MaryAnn MacGillivray let her four colleagues on the City Council know that they would have to be plain nuts to spend nearly $3 million dollars in money the State of California was planning on taking away. Just because it was all spent in one big old meeting rush was not a good reason to believe that Sacramento would no longer want their cut. To do so being, to use the nicer word for it, delusional.
Of course, when did John Buchanan, Josh Moran, Joe Mosca or Nancy Walsh ever listen to anything MaryAnn had to say? Which is why we could now be in a whole lot of trouble on this CRA mess.
The reason I am bringing this up today is that there is a disturbing article posted on the California Planning & Development Report (CP&DR) site called "DOF Puts Post-Redevelopment Coal In Cities Stockings" (click here). It came out on Tuesday, New Year's Day, so this is pretty fresh news for we the people. Here is an exerpt:
The holiday season continues to be a cruel time of year for California's redevelopment community. Last year, the state Supreme Court struck a blow on Dec. 29, allowing the state to abolish redevelopment agencies. And this year, on Dec. 18, the state Department of Finance denied funding to many of the 240 of the 400 successor agencies who had appealed earlier rejections.
The latest denial included funding for such high profile projects as site acquisition for a new downtown stadium for the San Diego Chargers football team, and $30 million to be used for a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers, which is already under construction in Santa Clara.
It's all added up to more pain for California cities who want to continue projects planned before redevelopment ended on Feb. 1. Cities are forced to confront the Department of Finance, which is tasked with taking money out of redevelopment and into other pressing state needs, such as schools.
The Dec. 18 news from the Department of Finance followed appeals by 240 of the state's 400 successor agencies. Finance released its list just before the holidays, bringing little holiday cheer to many. Up and down the state, the news was grim. In Ventura County, the city of Oxnard lost out on a $15.3 million loan for a $40 million affordable housing project, while nearby in Thousand Oaks, the city denied $7.7 million for improvements to its auto mall.
In case you need a refresher on all of this, here is what the City Council hoped to spend almost $3 million dollars in CRA money on during their April 2011 Encumber-A-Thon. This is all taken from the same April 2011 Tattler article we quoted from above.
1) Pave and Re-stripe City Parking Lots within the CRA Area: An enormous amount of money would be spent to pave and paint 7 parking lots. We're talking $28,500 for a consultant to do a study on the matter, then half a million dollars for the actual work. An additional $54,000 in "In-Lieu" parking funds would also be thrown into the kitty, bringing the total spend to $582,500. The lots designated as beneficiaries of this largess are North Baldwin/East Montecito, Auburn, City Hall, South Baldwin, Sierra Vista, the Rose Float lot and driveway, and Mariposa. Maybe they plan to use gold paint for the striping, and melted silver ingot for the slurry?
2) Conduct Downtown Parking Utilization Study: Here the spend is $50,000 for a consultant who would do an "inventory of the existing parking demand, the appraisal of a new parking in-lieu fee which is more closely equivalent to the actual cost for providing new downtown public parking spaces, and other downtown parking strategies." Apparently the goal here is to help provide "an enjoyable parking experience" for those coming to Sierra Madre to shop. An absolutely absurd squandering of money in my opinion.
3) Hart Park House/Senior Center Remodel: $244,300 has been allocated for this project. This one has been talked half to death by the City Council already, with bids scheduled to be received in early June and the lucky winner picked on June 28. Green visors, color coordinated felt top bingo tables and energy efficient hokey poky strobe lights are apparently not included. How those items were missed I do not know.
4) Re-roof City Hall and the Public Safety Building: The City claims both are in dire need of brand new lids, and that the cost for doing so is estimated at $250,000. A price that seems steep. Is this work that actually needs to be done? Couldn't we just have some routine maintenance performed, therefore undoing the need to spend a quarter of a million dollars? When the object is to spend money and not save money, the rules change. This could be one of those instances.
5) Memorial Park Restrooms: We're talking a new john here. A "CXT Kodiak" restroom facility would be built somewhere behind City Hall. The Hart Park House johns would then be turned into storage space. The total hit to the CRA kitty being $145,500. My question here being wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to just paint the old restrooms, maybe replace the steel pots and urinals, and then make sure someone actually washes the place every now and again? Occasional soap and water can really work miracles in places like that. Trust me, they haven't been cleaned since C.W. Jones was Mayor.
6) Resurface East Montecito between North Baldwin and North Mountain Trail Avenue: Why this street has been chosen for a $125,000 make over, with $14,750 for a consultant thrown into the mix, will be a matter of some controversy here. Long designated as a redevelopment target, East Montecito would apparently become just about the most nicely paved street in the entire town. Not bad for an area that has been selected for homeless housing, and an indication that when it comes to allocating funds for street paving, the City of Sierra Madre will not let hobophobia stand in its way. Also jumbled in here is the "undergrounding of utilities," to be done with the aid of our dear friends at Edison. So not only would this street be among the most poshly paved in town, you will not have to look at unsightly power lines while driving it. You really can't help wondering what it is that they're planning for this place.
7) Replace Sierra Madre Boulevard Water Main from Maintenance Yard to Lima Street: We're talking a cool $750,000 for this one, with an additional $18,300 for the inevitable design consultant. And here I thought this kind of thing was supposed to have been taken care of by the water rate increase. Oh yeah, that's right. That tall tale is no longer operative. Gee, do you think that maybe The Gang knew they'd be spending CRA money on pipe repair all along?
8) Replace Municipal Pool Equipment and Equipment Building: When money is no object you can do almost anything. Including the spending of $650,000 for pool equipment. My suggestion is inflatable yellow floaties in the shapes of happy ducks. You'll be glad to know that by spending this money the pool and associated facilities will be brought up to Health Department standards. As one who swims there with the family from time to time, I was delighted by the information that this is not the case now.
9) Conduct Market Demand Study for Downtown: Of all the projects listed, this is perhaps the most idiotic and poorly conceived. We're talking $30,000 for a consultant to figure out what exactly it is that Sierra Madreans purchase when doing their shopping. And once this important work is completed a bound book would then be created to better inform Sierra Madre's merchants on how they can fine tune their inventories and better serve the needs of their customers. The upshot being that Happy's would then know that they could improve their financial performance by stocking toilet paper and toothpaste.
10) Memorial Park Playground Equipment: As someone who spent quite a lot of time watching my kids romp around Memorial Park not all that long ago, I cannot see how the current playground equipment needs replacing. It still looks new, quite safe, and certainly serves the needs of the under 5 set to climb up and down stuff. The spaceship is particularly popular, as is the train. My guess here is The Gang must have run out of other things to spend CRA money on.
11) Development of 186 W. Highland: Only slightly less beloved than a toothache, this redevelopment project has apparently unified an entire neighborhood in its desire to tar and feather our City government. The malarkey in the City Staff report runs about as deep as any document that I have ever seen, but the CRA consequence here is the spending of $25,000 on a consultant to determine there is a lot of traffic in that neighborhood. And that if you add a complex of low to moderate income housing next to Sierra Madre Elementary School, the traffic situation will not improve. Nor will the already scarce parking situation for that matter. This has to be an attempt to soft soap some of the consequences of an unpopular redevelopment project.
When you consider that cities far larger than ours, places such as San Diego, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, got schmeissed by Sacramento, what chance do our spends on things such as playground equipment, the $30,000 Buxton "market demand" fiasco, or the Kodiak outhouse in Memorial Park stand? We could now end up having to pay for at least some of these projects out of the General Fund, which is not the result anyone here had hoped for.
But if you are looking for one of the reasons why the UUT 3 wants to raise our utility taxes up to 12% all of a sudden, this could be as good as any.
Encumbered or not.