On Oct. 29, 1975, the New York Daily News carried this headline after President Gerald Ford gave a speech denying federal assistance to keep New York out of bankruptcy: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
For Santa Rosa and its 13-year effort to rebuild Railroad Square, the headline could read: “Gov. Brown and Sacramento to Santa Rosa: Drop Dead.”
At issue is $5.5 million in city redevelopment funds committed to 93 units of affordable senior housing that have been snatched away from Santa Rosa as Sacramento has shut down redevelopment agencies across the state. The funding is the critical link in the cannery area project. Without it, the project collapses and it will be years if not decades before anything happens at what is considered Santa Rosa’s best opportunity for transit-centered downtown development.
To date, through multiple sessions in Sacramento, the message to Santa Rosa and the city’s taxpayers has been: Drop Dead. [See "City makes 11th-hour plea for Railroad Square funds," Nov. 5 ]
Nonetheless, key meetings are scheduled in what may be the last out-of-court hearing on the matter.
Around the state of California, billions of dollars in redevelopment funds have been taken away from cities and other jurisdictions, prompting a flurry of lawsuits.
What makes the state’s Railroad Square rejection so egregious is that it will doom a project that local, state and federal officials of nearly every stripe have said they want: Affordable, infill and next to mass transit such as the SMART train. Millions of dollars already have been poured into toxic cleanup and other efforts to launch the project because so many believe in its vision. That includes $7.5 million from developer John Stewart. And tens of millions of dollars in other investments in the site are unlikely to occur without this project as a catalyst.
This is economic development in reverse.
Several city, county and state elected officials have thrown their support behind restoration of the $5.5 million in funds. They argue that the state’s own Housing and Community Development in 2009 predicated the granting of $11.3 million in highly competitive Proposition 1C infill funds on the city putting up the $5.5 million.
Consequently, if the state Department of Finance stands by its decision not to return the $5.5 million to the project, it will be in essence overruling the requirements of another state agency. In other words, Department of Finance to Housing and Community Development: Drop Dead.
Surely it’s understandable that Sacramento has severe budget challenges. And surely there were cases where local redevelopment dollars were used inappropriately to subsidize questionable development.
But that is not the case with the Railroad Square project, just as it hasn’t been with many, many redevelopment-funded successes around the state. In Railroad Square, local and state officials have partnered with community-minded people in the private sector to restore a blighted area with elements such as affordable senior housing and a transit-oriented built environment.
After 13 years of effort, it would be tragic to let it die.
Brad Bollinger is associate publisher and editor in chief of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4251.
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