High-profile development projects north of Sonoma and in Roseland received key votes of support Monday from a county oversight board that is tasked with managing what were formerly redevelopment funds.
The projects would transform a shopping center in Roseland into a commercial and residential complex with a community plaza and also complete street, sidewalk and lighting upgrades to Highway 12 north of Sonoma known as the "Springs."
The oversight board on Monday supported spending $19.5 million to complete those projects and numerous smaller initiatives.
But that does not guarantee that those funds will be available. The state Department of Finance could overrule the board's actions, in which case it remains unclear what would happen next.
"Even if we do the admirable thing here . . . the public needs to know that $6.9 million is going to be questioned by the state," Steven Herrington, the county's superintendent of schools, said in reference to the amount the board authorized for the Roseland project.
The money formerly was distributed by redevelopment agencies that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature disbanded last year to free up property tax revenue for other spending priorities.
Such funds likely are subject to redistribution to other taxing agencies, including schools and special districts. The oversight committee's responsibility is to "dispose of all assets and properties of the former redevelopment agency" in a way that is "in the best interests of the taxing entities."
The seven-member board includes city and county officials, school representatives and a member of the public, and is chaired by Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown.
Despite the money that schools and special districts theoretically stand to reap as a result of the redistributed funds, Monday's meeting in Santa Rosa was devoid of any major conflict among members of the board.
The one exception was when Doug Roberts, vice-president of business services at Santa Rosa Junior College, told the board that he was going to abstain from voting on the resolution in support of the projects because he said doing so would be akin to supporting budget cuts to community colleges, which he said have suffered significant cuts already.
"How can I be for something that could potentially cause my (institution) to take another economic hit?" he said.
But after Brown argued that "anything other than a unanimous vote would get picked apart" by the state, Roberts agreed to recuse himself from the vote. Earlier in the meeting, Roberts recused himself from two items because of the junior college's role in those contracts.
Most people who spoke at Monday's meeting urged the board to support projects that already were in the works when redevelopment ended. The projects range from construction loans to small businesses, to the Springs project, which has an outstanding balance of $10 million.
Alfredo Sanchez told the board that the Roseland project represents an "opportunity to change" a community that he said hasn't had much to celebrate since he moved to Santa Rosa in 1969.
Likewise, several speakers said the upgrades to Highway 12 near Sonoma would improve safety, raise property values and help stimulate the local economy.
County officials contend that the projects are "enforceable obligations" that are subject to continued funding through what are now known as "successor agencies."
But there is much uncertainty surrounding redevelopment's demise, including what would happen had board members on Monday chosen to take any of the projects off the "Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule," or ROPS.