Gov. Jerry Brown’s ears likely were burning early Wednesday morning.

That’s because his idea to end redevelopment funding for cities and counties – part of his plan to close a more than $26 billion California budget deficit – came in for a shellacking.

Newly elected Santa Rosa City Councilman Jake Ours called Mr. Brown’s redevelopment proposal a “shell game” to move money from cities and counties into courts and state medical programs.

“It’s a straight steal,” Mr. Ours told the regular meeting of the Sonoma County Alliance. He said important city projects will not get done without redevelopment funds playing a role. “The Hearn Avenue overpass, gone,” he said. Projects from downtown to Coddingtown are in jeopardy, he said.

The future of redevelopment for the entire North Bay is “bleak,” he said.

Redevelopment projects are funded by local property taxes that would otherwise go to the state, Mr. Ours and others noted.

In Healdsburg, hotel developer Martin Sher described how the Hotel Healdsburg was made possible in part by redevelopment agency involvement.

Mr. Sher said he had a vision for a getaway experience for Bay Area residents who have had a decades-long relationship with Sonoma County.

Few would argue Hotel Healdsburg has not had a transformational impact on that city in particular and Sonoma County in general. Two-thirds of Hotel Healdsburg customers come from within a two-hour drive of Sonoma County, Mr. Sher said. Those visitors in turn patronize businesses throughout the county.

A Healdsburg official noted that the city uses redevelopment funds for a variety of big and smaller projects such as building downtown façade improvements.

There was no mistaking the anger many local officials harbor over the governor’s proposal. One former city council member said it was simple politics. The governor was targeting city and county funds because it was a lot easier than taking money from schools or bloated public agencies.

If the governor’s proposal is approved, it likely will face a court challenge, one city official said. And even if local governments ultimately win, years could pass without any redevelopment projects being started.

As for recent efforts to push through redevelopment plans now to secure the funding before a ban, Mr. Ours said it has been rumored that the state may try to re-capture funding for projects going back three years.

The problem is, of course, if not $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds getting the axe, what does get cut to close the massive deficit? How, Gov. Brown might argue, can the state direct funds to assist a local project by a large national shopping center developer when parks and schools need dollars?

Local officials will argue that getting the shopping center project moving with redevelopment funds helps the entire city and its residents, not just the developer. And many think Gov. Brown should start by cutting the state bureaucracy before hobbling innovative local projects.

But with the governor unable to risk igniting organized opposition to a planned June ballot measure extending tax increases – the second critical leg of his deficit proposal – serious cuts to state government seem unlikely immediately.

Clearly, Mr. Brown doesn’t appear anxious to spark a Wisconsin-style confrontation. So, for the moment, the howls of city and county officials may represent California’s albeit smaller and different version of the Wisconsin statehouse protesters.

But if the ballot measure fails in June, all bets are off.


Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251