Ruling halts SLO County improvement projects

Millions of dollars for low-income housing and a slew of projects slated to generate local jobs are among San Luis Obispo County’s casualties in the California Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to uphold a state law disbanding redevelopment agencies.

The decision affects agencies in Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Grover Beach, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.

Redevelopment agencies use a portion of property tax revenue to pay for projects in areas that have been labeled blighted. Those projects can create jobs.

“We halted several projects today and if they don’t come back the reality is people are going to be out of work,” Atascadero Assistant City Manager Jim Lewis said. “That’s a lot of economic activity that just went poof.”

In fact, the city issued a memo to its Public Works Department to stop work on projects including streetscape improvements and the design of its new pedestrian bridge downtown, Lewis said.About $10 million in redevelopment money is tied to projects in town. Examples include some parts of the city’s historic Administration Building rehabilitation, frontage improvements to Atascadero Lake Park, and some low-income housing. Those projects were expected to create jobs.

While the amount of redevelopment money Paso Robles stands to lose wasn’t immediately available, Thursday’s decision poses risks to the city’s future river walk project along the Salinas River and ongoing low-income housing funds.

But perhaps most noteworthy are court-ordered efforts to improve the city’s disabled access downtown and along Spring Street. The access work has been designed, but construction has not yet been contracted, so officials question whether it will be funded with redevelopment or general funds.

Figuring out where each project stands amid the new rules will take time.

“We’re attempting to resolve those questions in the ensuing months,” City Manager Jim App said. “This one is going to be wild and woolly for a while with lots of details, and exceptions and lots of gray.”