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Redevelopment clean-up: Vista's Amanda Rigby still believes 'we could do better'

 California governor Jerry Brown, taxpayer money and meandering laws.
California governor Jerry Brown, taxpayer money and meandering laws.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Imagine what would happen in a sporting event or big game if the referees kept adding new rules and changing old ones.

Most likely people involved would become outraged, there would be chaos brought to the game as coaches and their players wondered about what would be allowed and what was going to next be declared illegal by a vascillating uber-referee. Oh, and there might be charges of corruption made if the ever-changing rules favored one team over another.

Vista Councilwoman Amanda Rigby made it clear last Tuesday evening that she still does not agree with her colleagues on the selling of properties here in Vista, California. She again was the lone vote against selling off properties purchased in the 1990s, saying she believes "... we could do better."

Colleagues brought up clearing the books, having to pay property taxes, and even mentioned that if the market did improve the rules currently say only a fraction of the proceeds can come back to city coffers. Four against one, why delay the matter any more? So the majority voted in a pragmatic step to sell several sites on or near North Santa Fe.

Redevelopment, Successor Agencies, et cetera

In recalling events of 2011, before Rigby ran and was elected to her council seat, when Governor Jerry Brown shut down all of California's Community Redevelopment Agencies, rules changed by official decree. Yes, the Redevelopment Agencies were created to "shepherd development" in blighted areas, but all of a sudden many properties were left open on the books. So "Successor Agencies" were created.

Those new agencies were responsible for dealing with the properties left in limbo by the legal rule changes.

Recently Governor Brown signed something called AB471 into law. It now amends a section of the California Government Code to allow "infrastructure financing districts" (IFDs) to finance a project or portion of a project located within a redevelopment project area or former redevelopment project area.

Some say Governor Brown wanted to get rid of the corruption of the Redevelopment Agencies. Apparently they were seen as using eminent domain to "steal property" from owners, then giving it to friends and big time developers. Well, if so then he helped to end that, but more recently Brown signed a bill which looks to some as if it maybe will start up all over again.

Says one blogger, Stephen Franks in a piece on CApoliticalnews regarding the issue:

"Worse in specific language this is no longer about blighted areas—a home in the foothills of Beverly Hills can now be taken by a greedy developer with friends in government."

This AB 471, according to CaliforniaLegInfo website, was authored by new Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins "... clarifying current law governing the dissolution of local redevelopment agencies (RDA)" it states.

The article also reports:

"The bill, AB 471 (Atkins), represents a second attempt by the Speaker-Elect to address RDA dissolution issues after the Governor vetoed her previous bill, AB 662, last year. AB 471, which passed unanimously in its final form, makes several helpful changes affecting the dissolution process and clarifies that infrastructure finance districts can be established on territory within a former RDA project area. The League appreciates the continued work and efforts of the Speaker-Elect to develop solutions that address issues affecting redevelopment dissolution."

And as City of Vista Councilwoman Amanda Rigby stated in a previous council meeting, covered in the Examiner, the dash to finish selling/clearing taxpayer-funded properties off the books, and forking over the majority of proceeds to other entities is something that does not sit well with her. She stated in the previous meeting:

"I don't know. I'm just feeling kind of like we're getting the short end of that stick...."

Councilman Dave Cowles also mentioned at the same meeting being "forced to dissolve the redevelopment properties" by the State. His understanding seemed to be that these were properties that the City of Vista intended to hold for redevelopment in the future, but now the city is in the position of having to get the properties "off the books."

The Legislative Analyst Office website, LAO analysis, has thoughts about the IFDs which are also of interest. They do ask a very good question:

Is the Governor’s Proposal Constitutional?

To which they state:

"As discussed previously, the State Constitution requires cities and counties to obtain approval from two-thirds of their voters prior to issuing long-term debt. Because the Governor’s proposal would not amend existing law in order to clearly distinguish
IFDs as a legal entity separate from their sponsoring cities or counties, the constitution’s two-thirds voter-approval requirement of a city and county may extend to its IFD. If so, implementing the Governor’s proposal would require a
constitutional amendment."

The idea is one which worries some.

"... the Governor’s proposal to lower the voter-approval threshold for IFD debt may conflict with provisions of the State
Constitution requiring voter approval of city and county debt. In addition, the Governor proposes to maintain somewhat problematic rules related to voter approval of IFDs. Therefore, we recommend the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposed changes to the voter-approval requirements for IFDs. Instead, we suggest the Legislature consider two alternatives: (1) restructure IFDs to resemble similar types of local entities that do not have voter-approval requirements or (2) expand voter-
approval requirements to allow all residents of the communities affected by an IFD to vote."

With talk of RDAs going away in back in 2011, an article from the San Francisco firm of Reuben,JuniusRoseLLP shed a bit more light on why the IFD idea arose:

"Tax increment financing is a tool that redevelopment agencies are able to take advantage of, and the idea currently building a head of steam in the city is that IFDs could fill the void left if and when redevelopment agencies are eliminated." They also stated:

"... cities are scurrying to find new ways to fund economic development activities, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing. IFDs could be one solution to these problems."

Infrastructure and affordable homes are a good thing for people in a community. A look back at some of the Proposition 13 (1978) HowardJarvisTaxpayerAssociation information online, it seems that the advocates for the original proposition believed it would give predictability for California property owners and also provide for community stability. Many understood that increased property taxes would take a higher percentage out of lower-incomed community members if they owned a high-valued property.

Writing on AB 471 legal changes, Brad Kuhn at CaliforniaEminentDomainReport wrote earlier this year a few important points about the newest changes from on high:

  • "Local agencies can now form an infrastructure financing district over a redevelopment project area to finance redevelopment projects that were not yet completed prior to the dissolution of redevelopment agencies."
  • "The newly formed infrastructure financing district can issue bonds to pay for real or other intangible property and certain public capital facilities of communitywide significance, and such bonds will be secured by any increase in property tax revenue over the assessed value of the property within the infrastructure financing district."
  • "The new law also encourages local agencies to wrap up their redevelopment affairs, as a redevelopment project cannot be financed until the successor agency to the former redevelopment agency receives a finding of completion."

Kuhn adds another piece of information as well. "The infrastructure financing district idea passed the Legislature in the early 1990s as an alternative to redevelopment, permitting the use of tax-increment financing for infrastructure without requiring a finding of blight. But the idea has rarely been used, primarily because they require two-thirds voter approval to be created or issue bonds. While there was discussion about reducing this requirement, as part of the new law the the two-thirds vote requirement was not changed."

Which makes Councilmember Amanda Rigby's thought that "we can do better" an important one for voters who care about the issue and continue to watch legislative actions.