In a first-reading vote Tuesday, the Signal Hill City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that adopts an economic plan which aims to promote development in the city.
“We had, you know, a fantastic run with the redevelopment agency. That is gone. It is gone,” Councilmember Ed Wilson said. “Whether we’ll get some of the property back, we don’t know. Whether we’ll still be able to have some of the revenue, we don’t know. But what we do know is that we do need tools in place to try to develop properties and entice businesses to come to the city.”
The ordinance outlines the terms of the Economic Development Assistance Program in which potential development projects could be approved by the City Council. The Council’s decision acknowledges Signal Hill’s loss of a critical agency after the State dissolved all of the redevelopment agencies as of Feb. 1. Without redevelopment in existence, the City is moving forward to revitalize its local economy.
City Attorney David Aleshire emphasized the need for the City to continue the work of the redevelopment agency.
“The redevelopment agency has accomplished many things in its 38 years,” Aleshire said, “but there [are] still major portions of the city that we didn’t get a chance to get around to, and, without the same sorts of authorities to do the sorts of activities the agency was doing, the economic revitalization of the city will just stop.”
The Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) and more than 400 other redevelopment agencies throughout California were funded through local property-tax increment dollars. These agencies were formed to provide affordable housing and eliminate blight. In addition to addressing environmental contamination in land affected by decades of oil production in Signal Hill, the SHRA helped with the property development in key areas for major businesses, according to the ordinance. The agency then enjoyed the benefits of the partnership with these businesses, which include, among others, Office Depot, Costco and Home Depot. The ordinance credits the City’s redevelopment agency for creating about 2,350 jobs since the SHRA’s inception. Also, the City enjoyed a share of a significant amount of sales-tax revenue. In 2011, the businesses within the project area created $57 million in sales-tax revenue for the state, according to statistics cited by the ordinance.
Aleshire emphasized that proposed projects would be approved by the Council on a case-by-case basis. They must meet at least one of several conditions that would benefit the community, as outlined by the ordinance. These conditions include: blight alleviation; establishment of businesses that will produce at least 300 long-term jobs or preserve a business that will create 150 long-term jobs; creation of ongoing revenues to the City of at least $300,000 per year; or creation of a needed public amenity or a unique private facility that would be “significant to the community character.” In return, the ordinance notes where the City could provide businesses with assistance in various forms that include public-private partnerships, regulatory relief and tax rebate agreements.
Several Signal Hill residents challenged the ordinance and asked to continue the public discussion to allow more time to review its implications. Resident and former councilmember Carol Churchill asked several questions at the City Council meeting. Churchill challenged Mayor Tina Hansen when the mayor instructed Churchill to ask all her questions at once.
“It’s nice to know we have a new dictator in town,” Churchill said.
Churchill inquired about the purpose of an ordinance when the city charter already grants the City the same powers. She also asked whether the ordinance expands the City’s power of eminent domain or imposes taxes on the residents without voter approval. She specifically requested to put the issue on the ballot for the voters, in case there were tax implications.
Maria Harris, another Signal Hill resident, also expressed concern about the ordinance language. She wanted more language that recognized that the rights of property owners should be protected. Harris also asked that district boundaries be formed. Her suggestion would effectively limit the scope of the City’s authority.
“A district boundary could be developed instead of applying it to an entire city, leaving us the residents wondering, ‘Okay, where is the mighty arm of government going to fall today?’” Harris concluded. “You have to recognize that government does not have a good reputation, and we out here get very nervous every time we hear about government’s expanding and strengthening their powers.”
The city attorney addressed the concerns of the language of the ordinance, indicating that it is already subject to a number of laws, including those at the federal and state levels. He specifically cited Proposition 218.
“There’s nothing in this ordinance that would allow the City to impose a tax without complying with [the parts of Proposition] 218 which require a vote of the people,” Aleshire said. “Okay? That’s state law, and we’re subject to that.”
The city attorney also explained the state law’s requirements with respect to eminent domain and emphasized that the ordinance doesn’t change the process. He underscored the need for an ordinance that highlights the existing powers of the City under the terms of its charter. He explained that the charter has very broad language in terms of the City’s authority, but the charter gives only a limited description and no specific plan.
“The charter in and of itself has some authority,” Aleshire said, “but it doesn’t really give the road map as to how we would do it.”
Councilmember Michael Noll emphasized the importance of passing the ordinance soon, noting that there is a “sense of urgency” since state lawmakers are now considering legislation surrounding brownfields, which may offer grants or other funding. Brownfields include real property or redevelopment that may be complicated by hazardous materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. The legislation may offer funding. To have regulations already in place, Noll argued, the City could be among the first to apply for funding.
Harris dismissed Noll’s argument for urgency.
“Perhaps they felt they needed to move because of the brownfield[s] issue,” Harris said in an interview following Tuesday’s Council meeting, “however as the [city] attorney pointed out and the city manager pointed out, the city charter provides…many of those powers already enumerated in this proposed ordinance. So I don’t think that the issue of urgency really was a legitimate grounds for not allowing the public to participate in it, in the discussion.”
The ordinance will be further discussed at the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 17.
Other City Council highlights
New police officers
Officers Nicholas Butler and DeAngelo Gossett were sworn into service and introduced at the Council meeting.
Mayor Hansen presented the 1st Quarter Sustainability Award to Ben Besley and Natasha Zabaneh of City Ventures
National Library Week
Hansen presented a proclamation to City Librarian Gail Ashbrooke in recognition of National Library Week April 8-14, 2012.
The Council voted to introduce an ordinance to approve a zoning ordinance amendment that reduces the setback areas for specific areas along California Avenue as requested by EDCO Transport Services.
League of Women Voters
The Council approved a request by the League to use the Council Chambers for forum for judicial candidates later this year.
The next Signal Hill City Council meeting is scheduled for April 17 at 7pm in the Council Chambers.