SACRAMENTO — A judge Friday gave new life to a pair of high-profile redevelopment projects in Sonoma County, tentatively ruling that state finance officials abused their authority by essentially demanding the county give up millions of dollars allocated for the work.
At issue are the long-planned Highway 12 street and sidewalk upgrades north of Sonoma and the proposed residential and commercial complex on an abandoned shopping center in Santa Rosa's Roseland neighborhood.
Both projects could have been thwarted, and may yet be, depending on the outcome of future legal proceedings. But county representatives on Friday expressed relief at winning a tentative victory in the crucial first round.
"It looks like we got over the first hurdle in court today," Kathleen Kane, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission, said outside the courtroom.
The county sued the state of California in January after finance officials in Sacramento determined that funding for the two projects was subject to redistribution to other taxing agencies under Gov. Jerry Brown's 2012 statewide dissolution of redevelopment agencies.
County officials claim the contracts set up by the county's former redevelopment agency to carry out the projects are valid and should shield the funds from redistribution.
Officials with the state Department of Finance, however, argue that the contracts between county agencies were not an "enforceable obligation" with a third party and therefore aren't valid under state law.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene Balonon wrote in his tentative ruling that was the focus of Friday's hearing that the state agency "abused its discretion" when it determined that payments for the two projects were not enforceable obligations.
The ruling does not address whether funds for the project will come from cash on hand or future tax receipts. The county filed a separate lawsuit seeking authority to use approximately $6.8 million it has currently for the projects — $5.2 million for Highway 12, and $1.57 million for Roseland.
The county in May refused the state's demand to return the money.