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Redevelopment fallout reverberates across region

The looming elimination of redevelopment agencies has been greeted in Sonoma County with wildly divergent reactions.

Local government officials express horror, warning of “carnage” to budgets, delays for critical community projects and setbacks for economic recovery efforts.

School officials are encouraged, expecting to enjoy a larger slice of the property-tax pie.

And critics of redevelopment are downright giddy, convinced the agencies strayed far from their original blight-fighting mission, threatened private-property rights and now deserve their fate.

But one thing everyone seems to agree on is this: California's breakup with its 400 redevelopment agencies promises to deeply impact Sonoma County and dramatically alter the priorities and funding of local government.

“This is a big hairy deal,” said John Haig, the Sonoma County government's redevelopment manager.

As Highway 12 winds south through the scenic Sonoma Valley, it passes picturesque vineyards and forested hillsides that hide luxurious estates.

Just outside the city of Sonoma, however, the scenic vistas recede, blocked by a jumble of modest homes, aged apartments and businesses crammed near the busy roadway.

Here Highway 12 is Main Street for the 11,000 residents of Fetters Hot Springs, Agua Caliente and Boyes Hot Springs, communities that grew haphazardly in the late 1800s and early 1900s as tourists flocked to the area's geothermal springs. But as the popularity of the baths waned, much of the area fell into decay.

The county formed a redevelopment area in 1984 to address basic needs. Highest on the priority list has long been sidewalks, streetlights and parking, improvements aimed at making the highway safer for residents and visitors and more attractive to businesses.

It's been a slow process. After years of planning, the second phase of that plan is ready to go. County supervisors last year committed up to $13 million for the project. Bids are nearly ready to go out.

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