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Redevelopment Woes

By Rebecca Wicks
Ventura Breeze
Jan. 11, 2012

Last month marked the end of 2011. It also marked the end of something else in Ventura – its Redevelopment Agency. In December, the California Supreme Court dashed many a city official’s hopes across the state of the possible continuation of redevelopment agency projects when it made the final ruling upholding the state’s right to abolish redevelopment agencies in California.

The task of dissolving Ventura’s Redevelopment Agency is being led by Jeff Lambert, community development director for the City of Ventura.

“It’s daunting, there is so much work to be done, we’re unraveling it all now,” said Lambert who has been working closely with city attorneys as well as city officials from other parts of the state to understand exactly what the approach should be. “The good news is we have a fairly small agency, which makes us better off than many other cities in the state.”

Each of the approximately 400 redevelopment agencies in California have its own set of implications from loan repayment obligations and staffing issues to land ownership liabilities and future project commitments.

Ventura’s Redevelopment Agency owes the city $5.4 million and owns a handful of properties in the downtown area which will most likely be sold. According to Lambert, the city is currently reconfirming exactly what remaining obligations the Agency has such as contracts with affordable housing developers. Tax accessed monies will most likely pay for the loan back to the city.

As for staffing, Lambert said, “there is likely to be some shifting around but, there is no person whose job is defined as having 100 percent redevelopment responsibilities.”

As of Feb. 1, all redevelopment agencies for all intents and purposes won’t exist anymore. However, because the complexities of unwinding all the components of redevelopment will inevitably take more time, Lambert is working to make the city of Ventura the successor agency. Lambert will formally present this request to the City Council this month.

Following this approval by City Council, an oversight committee will be formed to keep an eye on the final tasks of taking the Agency’s projects and obligations apart.

“The court was pretty clear that the dissolution of the Agency needs to happen over the next four to five months,” said Lambert.

The Redevelopment Agency of the City of Ventura has acted as the city’s real estate developer in an effort to spur economic growth. Following a five-year plan, the Agency had been focusing public investment in the city’s blighted areas. The Agency worked as a tool for the city to attract and guide private investment with the aim of improving living and working conditions by developing affordable housing, strengthening neighborhoods, building public facilities, creating jobs and expanding businesses. One of the goals of the Agency was to increase revenue for the city by enlarging the overall tax base.

City officials are hopeful that projects such as the Westside Redevelopment project will find a way to continue in a different capacity within the city’s purview. How this might be accomplished is more than unclear.

A possible effect on private development companies that worked primarily with redevelopment agencies who were funded by state and federal monies is also unknown.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to abolish redevelopment agencies in January 2011 as a way to close a two-year $25 billion budget state deficit. He intended the money to move from redevelopment and go instead to schools and public safety.