City officials urged the governor to change plans to raid city coffers.
The City Council voted Tuesday to send a letter to Governor Jerry Brown asking him to change part of the state’s proposed budget that will eliminate redevelopment agencies and take the money they developed.
City Council members make up the city’s redevelopment agency, which invests tax dollars in local projects to rejuvenate blighted areas.
“Redevelopment is a tremendous economic engine,” said Pat Richardson, the city’s director of planning and redevelopment. “With the loss of that, we’ll suffer a tremendous loss.”
Redevelopment money paid for numerous projects in Temecula, such as the Mary Phillips Senior Center, the Overland Drive bridge, contributions to opening the Cal State San Marcos Temecula campus, the parking garage at the Promenade mall and the I-15 interchange with Winchester Road. The agency is also set to give $1.8 million to the school district over the next 19 years.
In some cases, the city attracts a new business by using redevelopment money to foot part of its costs. The business repays the cost through sales tax and keeps the economy healthy, city officials said.
“We would not have the Promenade Mall without the Winchester Interchange,” said City Manager Shawn Nelson.
For some residents, the agency gives an unfair advantage to big businesses, which benefit from these deals more than Temecula residents.
“I see redevelopment as the biggest scam in California,” said Robert Wheeler, who holds a PhD in economics and addressed the council at a meeting Tuesday. “I support the governor whole-heartedly, and I wish you would, too.”
Some residents said they felt the redevelopment agency abused the funds.
“I was a supporter until the redevelopment agency loan for the auto mall sign,” said Temecula resident Paul Jacobs at the meeting.
In October 2009, the agency approved a 20-year loan of up to $875,000 to the Temecula Valley Automobile Dealers Association, made up of Temecula car dealers, for an electronic sign visible from the freeway. The agreement included a 4.25 percent interest rate, but no obligation to make payments on time.
The city cited the bad economy as the reason for the loan. “In light of the economy becoming particularly difficult for the auto dealers over the past year, the agency staff and association conclude that now is the critical time to move forward with the new auto mall sign,” a city document stated.
“This was essentially a gift,” Jacobs said, and he called redevelopment funds “welfare” for big businesses.
Some residents supported the redevelopment agency. “It’s probably the most effective tool the city has to remove blight,” said Gary Thornhill, the president of Habitat for Humanity and a former deputy city manager for the city. “Why aren’t people concerned with locally-generated money being taken away by the state?”
The governor called redevelopment agencies corrupt and abusive, but only to corrode public support for the program, so it can take money they generate to balance the state’s budget, said Councilmember Maryann Edwards.
“They’re reaching down to local pools of money to rob and steal,” she said.