Two years after Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature dismantled California's $5 billion-a-year redevelopment program, Brown wants to bring some elements back, but he's offering less money, a different name and a change in local voters' approval.
The crux of Brown's plan is to expand the reach of the rarely-used, little-known infrastructure finance districts. The districts, or IFDs, have taxing authority and are created with voter approval. They rely on property tax dollars and focus on highways, transit and sewer projects, libraries, parks and child care centers.
Brown wants to add to that list urban "infill" development, affordable housing, development to encourage use of public transportation and former military bases, and what his office calls "necessary consumer services."
Many of the additions overlap with projects once carried out by redevelopment agencies, first authorized by the state after World War II to combat urban decay and blight.
The notion of using IFDs has some support in the Legislature, where a number of lawmakers have authored IFD-related bills.
"It does make sense," said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who authored a major IFD bill, SB 33. "It gives local government a financing tool for public projects ... and the infrastructure finance district does not take money from the schools, or from any other agency without its agreement."
The administration's plan is the culmination of the furious politicking that has wracked the Capitol since Brown first proposed in 2011 to abolish redevelopment agencies to help solve state budget woes and free up funds for other cash-strapped public needs.
Some 400 agencies across the state were formally eliminated in early 2012, over the objections of many cities and counties where officials argued that they would be left without a vital financing tool for much needed projects.
Dozens of municipalities sued the state over the move, including Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Brown's new proposal could provide a way to settle many of the court cases.
Santa Rosa in its lawsuit hopes to recoup $7.4 million, which stemmed from loans the city made to three redevelopment areas. The redevelopment agency was abolished before the loans were repaid, leaving the city on the hook.
Sonoma County is also locked in a legal battle with the state, having won a lower court ruling last year in its bid to keep $14 million in funding for its two largest redevelopment projects, in Roseland and along Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley.
The ruling is now up on appeal.
Under the governor's proposal, Santa Rosa and the county would need to resolve their legal cases with the state before being allowed to set up an infrastructure finance district.
The Finance Department, the state office that actually writes the governor's budgets, posted the governor's proposal Feb. 21 in the form of a so-called "trailer bill," a measure tied to the budget that takes effect only if the main budget bill is approved. Typically, a budget may carry a dozen trailer bills that reflect agreements reached to win passage of the main bill.
The Finance Department in its January budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year said the governor's "goal is to maintain the IFD focus on projects which have tangible quality-of-life benefits for the residents of the IFD project area."
Unlike redevelopment agencies, local entities such as fire and community service districts affected by IFD projects have the option of participating or not, "ensuring the impacted local agencies have a voice in whether they will contribute their revenue to those projects and, if so, how their revenues will be used," the administration said. Cities and counties are the most likely entities to create IFDs.