Board members mourn ending of Santa Rosa's redevelopment agency

Like a terminally ill patient preparing for the inevitable, Santa Rosa's redevelopment agency finished getting its affairs in order Monday.

The governing board of the 54-year-old agency, responsible for everything from fighting blight to funding downtown bicycle races, held what was almost certain its final meeting before its Feb. 1 dissolution.

"I think it's a real sad day for this community and other communities up and down the state of California," said board member Steve Burke, the city's former director of redevelopment and housing.

The final meeting of an agency whose operations were not well understood by the general public was, not surprisingly, sparsely attended. Board members were joined by a handful of staffers, one member of the media and a single member of the public, an affordable housing advocate named Gregory Fearon, who did not speak.

Danielle O'Leary, the city's economic development director, said she was disappointed not to see any signs of support from the public.

"Given the magnitude of how those programs touch people, it was kind of hard not to see any champions in the audience," O'Leary said.

The fact that the public doesn't appear to be mourning the loss of local redevelopment shows they are largely unaware of its accomplishments, said Frank Kasimov, city redevelopment specialist.

"I think it's probably indicative that people really don't know all the things that redevelopment does for a community, for the local economy, for jobs and affordable housing," Kasimov said.

Advocates of the state's 400 active redevelopment agencies say the tax revenue they generate and bonds they sell give local communities a vital tool to clean up blighted areas, create jobs and build affordable housing. Critics have labeled them as wasteful, lacking transparency and a threat to private property rights.

Gov. Jerry Brown estimates that if redevelopment agencies disappeared, local property taxes they feed on could flow instead to schools and other agencies, saving the state about $1 billion in education payments this year.

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