By Steven Tavares

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate of the state’s 425 redevelopment agencies is leaving local munipicalities scrambling to make sense of the possible ramifications to their city budgets. Cities like Fremont who are in the middle of growing their existing infrastructure are exploring every avenue they can come up with to continue their redevelopment priorities.

“We have umbrellas,” said Fremont City Manager Fred Diaz in anticipation of the possible loss of funding. “It’s not raining, but there is dark clouds forming.” Proposed redevelopment projects at the Irvington BART, Niles Town Plaza, Niles fire station and Washington grade separation could be in jeopardy of losing funding. According to Elisa Tierney, director of the Fremont Redevelopment Agency, Fremont’s most eagerly-awaited development at the Warm Spring BART station and surrounding Tesla facility would not be affected in as far as land use issues, but would also take a hit in funding. “They are pulling the rug out from under us,” said Tierney.

Brown’s budget proposal previewed earlier this week would tear down existing redevelopment agencies by July 1, retiring any debt and fulfilling any remaining obligations in the next fiscal budget. Just what will constitute a legal obligation is the great unknown facing cities and leading one nonpartisan report to urge the state to move quickly before redevelopment agencies move to add more debt.

What can be accounted as a contractual obligation for the city is open for interpretation. Vice Mayor Sue Chan wondered if the inclusion of some projects would be settled in the courts. “The Devil is in the details,” said Fremont City Attorney Harvey Levine. The constitutionality of redirecting funds back to the state through abolishing redevelopment agencies is also a thorny legal question after voters passed Proposition 22 last November banning such a move by Sacramento.

Anger at the local level over takebacks by legislators in Sacramento has been palpable for some years and has allowed for populist angst to be unleashed by nearly every East Bay city council. Councilman Bill Harrison said the taking of redevelopment dollars will be a tough catalyst to drum up support from the public since many residents are unaware of its function and is an issue without a constituency.

“This is the best tool we have to spur the flow of development,” added Councilwoman Anu Natarajan. In what became a short brainstorming on how to protect its redevelopment funding, Natarajan mentioned whether Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski’s current bill in the Legislature concerning dollars for the Warm Spring BART/Nummi project could be a possible hedge against the loss of funding proposed by the governor. “It might be a good idea to use as a shield against these Draconian steps,” agreed Diaz.

In the meantime, Diaz says the city staff will be working quickly to assess its situation after Brown’s surprise announcement. A detailed report is due for the council’s consideration in late March, he said, while warning, “You’re going to have potentially big decisions that night.”