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Sonoma County rebuffs state's redevelopment denial


An oversight board tasked with managing former redevelopment funds for Sonoma County government is standing by its two largest projects, rebuffing a state message last week that deemed the projects invalid for continued funding and work.

The projects would transform a shopping center in Roseland into a commercial and residential complex with a community plaza and also would complete street, sidewalk and lighting upgrades to Highway 12 in an area north of Sonoma known as the Springs.

The oversight panel voted unanimously Friday to reaffirm its claim that the county can carry forward with the work under state legislation that dissolved redevelopment earlier this year.

The decision backed a broader March 26 vote by the seven-member oversight panel to spend up to $19.5 million in property taxes and bond proceeds to complete the two high-profile projects and numerous smaller initiatives.

That plan was subject to state review, however, and it was dealt a blow last week. Department of Finance officials notified the county that the Roseland and Highway 12 projects did not meet the test for "enforceable obligations," the term for projects that can be continued with redevelopment funds.

The ruling raised the possibility of liquidation for the projects' unspent funding, including $10.4 million for Highway 12 and $6.4 million for Roseland.

But the local oversight board again asserted its stake in that money Friday and its support for projects that proponents say will have significant community benefits.

"We believe we have a strong position on this," said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who sits on the appointed oversight board. It includes a majority of county representatives, along with one city of Santa Rosa official and two school officials representing primary education and Santa Rosa Junior College.

The panel authorized returning to the state the county's list of redevelopment projects with only minor modifications.

Supervisor Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the oversight board, and County Counsel Bruce Goldstein also sent letters pressing the county's case.

They cite state law on the phase-out of redevelopment and contend that the oversight board's March 26 vote rendered the county's list of projects "enforceable obligations."

They also argued that the benefits of continuing with the projects — including cleanup of environmental contamination, safety upgrades to roads and boosted property tax revenue in blighted areas — would outweigh any gains from halting the efforts and redistributing the money to other public agencies and services.

Completing "these two projects will not only benefit the communities in which they are located, but will also benefit all taxing entities," Brown wrote.

Who gets the final say and what happens next is in dispute. The standoff could play out this year between the state and local governments seeking to defend their redevelopment projects.

At stake locally are dozens of projects worth millions of dollars in cities including Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sebastopol. The county is a test case as it turned in documents earlier than most of the cities.

"If jurisdictions want to submit further evidence ... then we will review the information they provide us and make a (decision) whether or not that changes our initial determination," said Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.

He said the county's notice would trigger a second round of response and review periods that could result in word back from the state in about two weeks.