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CRA Scrambles to Sock Away Nearly $1 Billion for Projects*

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The CRA believes the planned garage and plaza at the Broad museum are in jeopardy; scene from this morning's meeting
How anxious is the Community Redevelopment Agency feeling right now? Following a hastily-called meeting, this morning the Community Redevelopment Agency Board of Commissioners moved to freeze nearly $1 billion to pay for more than 200 planned CRA projects, developments ranging from the parking garage at Eli Broad's new downtown museum to the controversial 1601 Vine office tower in Hollywood.

With the entire agency facing elimination under Gov. Jerry Brown's budget cuts, the CRA quickly put together a draft agreement with the city that socks away $930 million for future projects. (Update: Agreement and list of all the CRA projects, plus cost per project is here. Also the final amount is $930 million, not $938 million, which we originally wrote.) The City Council will vote on the agreement next week, according to Jim Dantona, Chief Deputy to CRA CEO Christine Essel.

According to Dantano, the urgency of introducing the document was prompted by chatter that legislation may be introduced to effectively neuter all CRAs immediately, rather than phase out the agencies in July, which was originally proposed in Brown's budget. "We are hearing from our associates in Sacramento that we may be impeded from working," said Dantona.

In his budget proposal announced Monday, Brown argued that redevelopment agencies are irrelevant, that development would happen regardless of the agencies, and that collected redevelopment money--which comes from property tax increments--should be diverted towards schools, cities, and counties. The specifics of what would happen to the agencies has been broadly outlined (California Planning & Redevelopment Report has a breakdown), while debts would be gradually retired by local successor agencies, according to Brown's budget.

The CRA agreement approved today by the board would have no impact on the city's general fund, and the city could cancel it at any time. The contract covers 200 plus CRA projects, all of which fall under the agency's five-year plan, which runs through 2015-2016. Each project is assigned a cost, which makes up the nearly $1 billion figure.

But in some cases, the list contains projects that have already been completed. For instance, Plaza Pacoima, a big box project that celebrated its grand opening last summer, is listed, as is Rosa Parks Villa, an affordable senior housing project near the 10 Freeway and Crenshaw Boulevard.

Because all projects in the five-year plan were included, some projects that are finished may have been inadvertently included, or perhaps those projects have outstanding work issues, said Dantona.

Only a handful of public speakers showed up at today's meeting, held at the Community Redevelopment Agency's headquarters on 7th Street, but those who did griped about the short notice of the event--the notice of the meeting was only posted to the city's web site on Wednesday night. “Moving a billion dollars in 24 hours tends to get some attention,” said Tony Butka, a Glassell Park resident who questioned whether the agreement was simply intended to block the seizure of funds by the state. "There is no reason for this haste," agreed neighborhood activist Ron Kaye, asking the board if the CRA was "doing the job" the public wants it do with this move. (Kaye also videotaped parts of the meeting.)

Board members acknowledged that their actions could be seen as hasty. “It is kind of disconcerting that we are proposing to have this special meeting within 24 hours,” said Joan Ling, Treasurer of the CRA Board. “But given the importance of what we have to take care of in terms of the budget, I don’t think we have a lot of choices.”

City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose downtown district has greatly benefited from CRA-led development, but who also hasn't been afraid to publicly criticize decisions made by the agency, had this to say after the vote: "The Council will be considering the CRA action to consolidate and transfer tax increment to the city next week. The CRA board's action today will ensure that local funds stay within the city and that we maintain control over how they are used locally."

And at next week's City Council meeting, she added, there "may also be an opportunity for us to look at the possibility of consolidating or restructuring the redevelopment agency. It is an important discussion that I think we need to have now."

Calls to Brown's office weren't returned. Meanwhile, there was a lively debate yesterday on KCRW's "Which Way, LA" show on shutting down redevelopment agencies. The show featured Perry, former LA Times editor Bill Boyarsky, among others.

UPDATE: The LA Times has a response from Brown's office: 'The governor’s office responded to the vote, saying Brown hoped the Community Redevelopment Agency was not planning on "squirreling money away for the indefinite future when our schools, police and firefighters are in need of this funding.'