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Petaluma protests state's denial of $34 million for city projects

  • 12/14/2009:A10: Traffic routinely backs up on East Washington Street in Petaluma, one of the few options for crossing Highway 101. A Rainier Avenue crosstown connector is proposed to ease the congestion.
    5/26/2004: B1: Traffic backs up in the eastbound lanes of East Washington Street in Petaluma as westbound cars make the left-hand turn onto the north Highway 101 ramp.
    PC: Traffic backs up in the east bound lanes (cars facing the camera) of East Washington as west bound cars make the left-hand turn onto the north HWY 101 onramp. This photo is from North McDowell Blvd. looking

Petaluma is preparing a protest letter to the state in defense of $34 million, mostly in highway construction projects, that the state disqualified for funding with former redevelopment money.

The most crucial at-risk plans include two highway interchange projects: at East Washington Street, which is under construction, and at Old Redwood Highway, which is ready to go out for bid.

The $28 million budget for the East Washington-101 project includes $4 million of redevelopment funding, which the city approved in 2005. Of that, $1.8 million has already been spent on land acquisition.

The $41.5 million Old Redwood Highway interchange project was to include $15 million in redevelopment funds, $11.3 million of which was rejected by the state Department of Finance. That project was identified as a redevelopment priority in 2003.

After the state dissolved municipal redevelopment agencies — as a part of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to use the revenues to plug the state budget gap — each locality submitted a list of what it said were contractually obligated projects, essentially those for which redevelopment funds had been specifically earmarked.

The state Department of Finance is in the process of analyzing each local government's list and approving or denying projects, based on whether they are considered "enforceable obligations." Money not allowed for the projects will be diverted back to underlying taxing entities, such as school districts.

Last month Sonoma County learned that plans to transform a Roseland shopping center into a commercial and residential complex and to complete pedestrian upgrades to Highway 12 north of Sonoma were denied. Santa Rosa learned this month that $8.1 million for three projects was denied.

In Petaluma's case, the state denied $34.3 million of the $41.5 million it considered to be enforceable obligations.

That includes the two highway projects, $7.5 million the city earmarked for the Rainier Avenue cross-town connector project, $6 million for undefined future economic development, $6 million for affordable housing programs and administration, $1.4 million for the next phase of the Petaluma River bike trail and $1 million toward a loan involving work at the city's marina.

Mayor David Glass has sought the help of state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who encouraged local leaders last week to fight for their projects, particularly ones that were approved locally before the state moved to eliminate redevelopment agencies.

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