The Future of West Altadena Redevelopment

As the governor sticks to his plan of eliminating all redevelopment funds for bodies such as the West Altadena Project Area Committee, uncertainty about that voice for West Altadena abounds

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/25/2011

If Gov. Jerry Brown's budget is passed, West Altadena could stand to lose its redevelopment committee, which uses state funds to help purchased blighted properties and attract new businesses in the Lincoln Corridor.
The West Altadena Project Area Committee's (WAPAC) existence is uncertain right now, as is every other redevelopment advisory body's, not to mention every county's redevelopment agencies across the state. In fact, the fate of every redevelopment agency is up in the air.
At Monday's WAPAC just north of Lincoln Crossing, one of the committee's main achievements over the year, a county representative named Bill Johnson of the redevelopment agency that WAPAC advises, the county's Community Development Commission (CDC), gave a presentation on why both the WAPAC's and the CDC's futures are at stake.
Brown has proposed cutting all state funds that go to redevelopment agencies statewide in both of his proposed budgets: the one in January that failed to pass by one vote in the state Assembly and the revised one that was unveiled May 16.
Even though California got more money than expected this year, both budgets call for the total elimination of all 400 redevelopment agencies and aim to put more money in public health, safety and education, according to Corde Carrillo, the Director of Economic Development and Redevelopment for the county's CDC . So far, the state Senate has not taken up the proposed budgets.
If the CDC is dismantled, there would be no need for the WAPAC, and West Altadena would have one less advisory body looking out for its business interests.
The state legislature is supposed to pass the budget by June 1, but that hasn't happened in a long, long time, so it might be a while before anyone knows what's going to happen. Carrillo said that if Brown's budget passes, there would be an agency to unwind the redevelopment activities both in West Altadena and any other redevelopment area in the state.
"I think he sees redevelopment as an initial funding source," Carrillo told Patch in a phone interview before Monday's WAPAC meeting. "Once redevelopment areas are eliminated, money would be used for public health and safety. He's finding new money, but it's having no effect, as far as we can see, on his plan. He hasn't looked at accepting, at this point, the reform proposals for redevelopment areas. He sees this as the future funding stream he may need to pay off some of California's debt."
The area that WAPAC covers makes up 80 acres centered around the intersection of Lincoln and Woodbury.  The agency was adopted in 1986, and its main achievement was bringing in the Lincoln Crossing development, which transformed a blighted area into a successful shopping development (though it has ). A map of the redevelopment project area is attached to this article.
The agency is designed to last a total of 40 years, but that 40-year duration still could be cut in half if Brown's budget is passed, which is still very possible, Johnson said at Monday's meeting.
"Although the measure was defeated in the state Assembly, it can be brought up for another vote at any time," he said. "So just because they vote against something doesn't mean they can't bring it back and vote on it again and again and again. Part of the governor's proposal would have taken $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds to help solve the state's current budget problems, so the whole reason for eliminating redevelopment was to go after the money."
In the short term, the billions saved by the redevelopment agency would go towards Medi-Cal payments and trial courts, but in the long term local residents could see more direct benefits from the money: the funding sources going towards redevelopment would be redirected to local education funding.
Elimination of the agencies is not just a Democratic proposal.  The proposed Republican budget also calls for redevelopment agency tax increment funds to be swept to the state in order to balance the budget, according to a report released May 18 by CCN Client Alert. The report goes on to say, "The Republican version does not, however, indicate whether it adopts the Governor's proposal or one of the other proposals calling for a voluntary transfer of such funds. The Republican version simply accepts the need for redevelopment agency revenues in order to close the budget deficit gap."
Both Carrillo and Johnson said that state lawyers for the legislature have told lawmakers in the last month that elimination of redevelopment agencies could violate the California constitution.
"The lawyers in the state legislature have issued an opinion that this transfer of local funds, beause that's what tax increment is, to the state would violate the state constitution," said Johnson. "Meaning it would be illegal to do that. But the legislature doesn't always listen to their lawyers. So the legal opinion has been provided by the state lawyers to the members that are there in the Assembly and it hasn't yet come back up for a vote again. But the governor has not changed his position at all. The state lawyers have said that it may not be legal because you can't transfer local funds to the state to pay for state needs, but the governor refuses to budge. And it simply creates a great deal of uncertainty for all redevelopment agencies statewide."
Two redevelopment reform bills have been introduced, according to Johnson's report to the WAPAC on Monday. One is called SB 450, and it seeks to reform redevelopment housing laws. The other one, SB 286, is a broader attempt at redevelopment reform.
"SB 286 makes numerous changes in reforms to redevelopment law," said Johnson. "Most significantly it excludes the educational share of tax increment for many or new or expanded redevelopment areas. It means the schools would be exempt from getting redevelopment funds."
So what would all this mean for West Altadena if WAPAC gets dismantled?
"There would be one less advisory body to speak for the redevelopment area community," said Carrillo. The Town Council is responsible for all of Altadena, so they would maybe look at the West Altadena area, and there might be members of them to speak about West Altadena in an advisory capacity. If the community wanted to, they could ask for another type of organization to speak for them or the business community in particular. It's certainly a possibility to have a privately funded entity to replace WAPAC."
Allan Wasserman, a member of the Altadena Town Council and that advisory body's representative on WAPAC, is also supportive of a privately funded entity with similar goals as WAPAC if it goes under.
"West Altadena would probably try to recreate a private form of it (if WAPAC was eliminated)," said Wasserman. "Something that's not state sanctioned, but an independent committee, probably financed by private individuals. They could reemerge themselves as a private entity that stays involved with the community."
WAPAC was formed because West Altadena requested a PAC when the county first formed a redevelopment area. Supervisor Michael Antonovich was supportive of it. PACs have to be constituted within redevelopment law. Their members are elected and they cover business owners, property owners, retail, homeowners, and other neighborhood associations.
"We provide administrative services for WAPAC," explained Carrillo. "We're a county support; we don't sit on WAPAC. The committee is made up of community leaders and has its own bylaws."
"Nothing officially has been done to end (the CDC and thus the WAPAC)," said Wasserman. "But redevelopment across the state is being scrutinized. Time will tell."
WAPAC meets the fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Business Technology Center, located at 2400 N. Lincoln Ave.