Stakes in the ground at the front entrance to the Historical Society’s Colony House delineate where pathways will meander and then line up with a pedestrian bridge joining Colony Square with historic Sunken Gardens. Those walking paths would have passed through a small plaza consisting of landscaping, benches and maybe even a bronze statue of Atascadero’s founder, E.G. Lewis.
But that project, along with a few others for the city, came to a screeching halt as a result of the state Supreme Court’s decision Thursday ruling that Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers have the right to abolish redevelopment agencies throughout the state. The governor wants to use the money to help the state with education funding. That certainly isn’t a bad thing. But you know the state is likely to reduce its funding for schools by the amount it gets from those redevelopment agency bucks.
Over the past decade, redevelopment monies, generated here in Atascadero, have helped bring about downtown improvements, spruce up the front of a half-dozen retail stores, upgrade street lighting and encourage new restaurants to open in the downtown core.
The subsequent jobs that accompanied those projects were a boost for the local economy.
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Of course, there have been cases of abuse of the redevelopment funding process. That seems to be the nature of things. Look at Social Security fraud. Officials can’t even keep up with the bogus medical clinics that dupe the government out of funds intended to help people in need. It seems to be the good old American way. We create a program to provide vital help to people, and devious minds find ways to make money from it.
But that is no justification to scrap the entire program, which has funded so many good projects in Atascadero and in cities throughout California.
Fortunately, a number of Atascadero projects already begun can continue, such as renovation of the City Administration Building, which, in addition to funding provided by FEMA, is getting about $13 million in redevelopment agency funding.
It is reprehensible that the state can take this step to balance its own budget on the backs of California cities. That just doesn’t feel fair to me.
As a result of this decision by the court, Atascadero won’t be purchasing that parcel on East Mall for the link to the pedestrian bridge (also a victim of the court action), some new downtown signage in front of the lake and zoo, and even some low- to moderate-cost housing, just to name a few.
Maybe some new funding source will come forward, such as a local development tax, to replace the redevelopment agency funding. Whatever it is, there had better be some intense thought in how to prevent the state of California from coming in and stealing it from us.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 466-8529.