Faced with aging drainage pipes, crumbling roads and other infrastructure problems caused by lack of money, county supervisors took a tentative step Tuesday toward exploring a new way to finance these improvements — a redevelopment agency.
The county has explored the concept before, in 2004, but left it alone after residents in Nipomo and elsewhere proved hostile to redevelopment agencies.
But now, as supervisors pointed out, the financial situation is drastically different, with loss of tax dollars hindering the county from fixing its infrastructure adequately and scaring away developers daunted by infrastructure costs.
Supervisors, wary but seeking new ideas, told their planning staff to work out proposals for a study session, possibly late this year or early next year, that would explore the pros and cons.
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“Put the trial balloon out there and see how many darts get tossed at it,” county Auditor-Controller Gere Sibbach said. “It merits study.”
Under redevelopment — which requires a process outlined in state law — bonds are sold to pay for infrastructure or beautification projects.
Those bonds are paid back with what’s called a tax increment. That’s the additional property-tax revenue from the expected boost in property values that redevelopment is supposed to bring.
Redevelopment also makes a local government a developer of sorts, giving it power — sometimes through eminent domain — to reshape a community it deems as blighted or needing an economic boost.
Supervisors were especially eager to glean input from the communities that would be affected.
Supervisor Katcho Achadjian said the county board should take its time going forward, in order to educate the county’s various communities and hear their opinions.
A redevelopment plan could target any community in unincorporated areas.
County planners singled out San Miguel and Oceano as places that could benefit from redevelopment, although they were careful to note that an agency could be set up to cover most other rural communities as well, or supervisors could establish a countywide agency.
Several on Tuesday cited positive experiences with redevelopment agencies. Among them was Supervisor Frank Mecham, a former Paso Robles mayor, who noted that the Park Cinemas project in that city was aided mightily by a redevelopment agency.
Jerry Rioux of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing said he has worked with successful projects in Pasadena, Watsonville and Santa Cruz.
However, several speakers had misgivings. Chief among them was the fear that eminent domain, a constitutional government power that some redevelopment agencies possess, will be abused and take private property from landowners against their will or without adequate compensation.
Others worried that the state government would take the county’s redevelopment money.
The board told planners to find out how redevelopment agencies work in other counties, accelerate outreach to local communities, and answer legal questions such as the advisability and limits of eminent domain.
Should the county agree to establish a redevelopment agency, it would take one to two years to get it up and running, according to county planners.