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Run Around Town, Run Around Brown: City OKs $1 Billion in CRA Projects

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Is a mushroom cloud-like legal battle with Governor Jerry Brown over redevelopment funds looming? Following today's action by the City Council, it sure looks that way. After months of delays, the City voted to protect up to $1.03 billion in local Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) projects, a move meant to move the funds out of Brown's reach.

The city's agreement with the CRA, which first created a list of projects in January, protects money for dozens and dozens of redevelopment projects, developments ranging from a $20 million grant for the Sears Tower in Boyle Heights to $100,000 for roof repairs at a YMCA in North Hollywood.

Even as some councilmembers complained the vote on the CRA agreement was being rushed--“I’ve never heard of some of these items,” said City Councilman Paul Krekorian, pointing out that he’d received the lengthy list of CRA projects just the night before--other members justified the vote as a legal maneuver. Others worried that Brown's budget would be voted on this week in Sacramento.

“This is about us getting the playing field ready,” said City Councilman Ed Reyes, who said the agreement would provide the city with leverage to negotiate with Brown's office.

But the response from Sacramento following the City Council's action this afternoon was harsh.

Redevelopment agencies "lack transparency, lack of accountability and lack of grace," wrote Tom Dresslar, spokesman for State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, in an email. “Do they really think that, when it comes down to choosing, Californians are gonna pick lining the pockets of developers over educating their kids and protecting their families?”

Showing the wide-ranging reaction to the dissolution of the development agencies, which Brown proposes shutting down on June 30th, dozens and dozens of supporters and opponents of the local CRA agency showed up at City Hall today to comment on both the city's actions and specific CRA projects.

Bill Harris, executive director of the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, a non-profit corporation, said CRA funds would help build Step Up on Vine, housing for the chronically homeless and mentally ill at Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine Street, and one of the projects on the CRA's billion dollar list. Moreover, the project would transform a vacant building and add street life to Santa Monica Boulevard, said Harris. "This is blight," he pointed out.

Other speakers railed against the agency, using the hearing as way to vent long-simmering grudges against the CRA. “The CRA is just a financing tool, coupled with the power of eminent domain,” said housing advocate and attorney Noel Weiss.

With his bold budget moves, "Governor Brown is challenging this city,” Weiss added. “And so far, the city is failing that challenge.”

But the message to the City Council by other city departments was “use or it lose it”. Chief Analyst Gerry Miller assured the city that they could cancel the agreement with the CRA at any time, and drop certain projects from the list of those protected. The agreement would tie up the funds before Brown "swept" up the money, he told the council.

City Attorney Kelly Martin called Brown's proposed legislation to kill the development agencies "unnecessarily punitive to the city" and warned that if Governor signs the bill this week, "it will be pencils down at the CRA."

After the vote, Councilman Reyes acknowledged that the legal ramifications--in terms of what rights the city and the state each have in respect to redevelopment funds--are still very murky. "But this agreement gives us more legal options," he said.
· CRA Scrambles to Sock Away Nearly $1 Billion for Projects* [Curbed LA]