By CJ Dablo
Signal Hill’s leaders did move quickly over the last few weeks to safeguard key redevelopment projects, including a criticized plan for a potential new library, officials acknowledged at the City Council and Redevelopment Agency (RDA) meetings on Tuesday, April 5.
City leaders, however, justified that the actions they’ve taken on behalf of their redevelopment projects had kept the city’s property tax dollars for local projects.
“Our vote allows us to keep the money in the community,” said Councilmember Ed Wilson. “The money that is already being generated, it gets to stay in Signal Hill, and, you know, I’m going to vote that way every single time. If I can keep the money here, that’s where my vote’s going to be,” Wilson said.
The city’s RDA funding relies on local property tax dollars. The RDA has been responsible for projects that developed affordable housing and cleaned blighted areas.
“What our choice has been is to either try and use the monies to benefit the citizens of Signal Hill or take a chance that the money is going to go to a bunch of other taxing agencies,” said City Attorney David Aleshire. “And as many other officials in this state have done, we ended up acting in a way which we thought was going to be in the best interest of the citizens of Signal Hill, as opposed to fixing the state’s general budget problem.”
Calif. Governor Jerry Brown asked to end redevelopment as part of an overall budget plan to close the state budget deficit estimated to total more than $25.4 billion. Over the last few weeks, state lawmakers in Sacramento wrestled over Brown’s budget proposals, but they failed to pass a specific bill that would effectively end redevelopment agencies by July 1. State legislators did, however, say that they may reconsider the redevelopment bill at a later date. Redevelopment agencies continued to operate, but Signal Hill officials suggested that the fight to keep RDAs was not over since they said that the governor may still pass the redevelopment bill.
Vice Mayor Tina Hansen described a chaotic time in March among city leaders when redevelopment was seriously debated in the state legislature.
“It got just absolutely crazy because…this bill came out of nowhere. The Assembly was literally one vote away from approving it by two-thirds majority. The governor was ready to sign it. It would have frozen our ability to do any more bonds,” Hansen said in an interview following Tuesday’s Council meeting.
“It would have taken away…our redevelopment agency. We would have had to sell our property. It was crazy, and we thought, ‘You know, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we have to try,” the vice mayor continued, as she explained how the city leaders maneuvered quickly to approve issuing the bonds for the library.
In an unusual time when no one could know whether there would be much of a future for redevelopment, city officials held three special joint meetings of the City Council and RDA in addition to their regularly scheduled meetings. They made several decisions about various projects. During one special session on March 4, the Council and RDA approved the transfer of property set aside for affordable housing. The property transferred from the RDA to the city’s Housing Authority. This week’s Council and RDA meetings formalized that transfer, which involved a duplex at 967 Las Brisas Way and two industrial buildings located at 1500 Hill St. and 2170 Gundry Ave.
At another special session on March 24, the Council voted to approve the issue of a $10-million tax bond to build a new library. The idea of building the library has met with criticism from two residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is a significant decision,” said Maria Harris, a Signal Hill resident who has voiced opposition to the library-building project in past meetings. “It means that what may be the last bonding authority of the redevelopment agency will be used to build a new city-owned facility without generating the revenue to support it. And it was done at the expense of the public’s right to participate, have its voice heard. The public was given only a 24-hour notice [of] the intent of the council and redevelopment board to approve this bond issue.”
Harris said that the city’s leaders could have waited for the next council meeting to discuss the library, although she did acknowledge that the announcements for that special session complied with the laws that governed meetings of public entities.
But the city attorney explained that the issue could not have waited for a regular council session. If that particular bill had been passed by the legislation and signed by the governor, Aleshire said, the redevelopment agency “would have been barred from issuing any bonds.”
The idea of building a new library has been controversial, especially during last month’s election for the two seats on the City Council, but Hansen who was re-elected to the Council and became vice mayor, defended the council’s actions.
“So, I’m so happy that we’re going to have a library. I’m not happy that we had to do it that rushed and that we didn’t have the chance to do it at a regular meeting, but it could happen any day,” said Hansen of the redevelopment legislation. She explained that the governor could still eliminate redevelopment by passing the legislation with a majority vote. “I think we made the right choice,” she said. “The prudent choice.”
Other City Council highlights
Outstanding Older American:
The City honored Frank Virga with the Outstanding Older American Award during the City Council meeting. May is the 46th anniversary of Older Americans Recognition Day during which seniors in Los Angeles County are honored for volunteer work.
An amendment to the zoning ordinance that would permit animal grooming/daycare was adopted by the City Council. Animal grooming/daycare will now be allowed in specified commercial and industrial districts. The Council had introduced the amendment last month in a public hearing, and on Tuesday evening the Council formally adopted the amendment.
Outdoor Storage Yard:
During a public hearing, the City Council discussed a zoning ordinance amendment that would regulate outdoor storage yards in order to comply with laws regarding pollution into storm drains. The Council approved the amendment during a first reading on Tuesday night, but the amendment will need a second reading later this month to be formalized.
A presentation during the meeting reported major violations from 15 storage yards. Metal that sits on the ground presented a specific problem for some of the yards in question since rain that came in contact with the metal would flow from the property into the storm drains that eventually flowed in to the Los Angeles River.
Orizaba Avenue cul-de-sac:
The Council also held another public hearing and approved a resolution to vacate a part of the cul-de-sac on Orizaba Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway to allow housing developers to create a private road.
City Council approved funding allocation for a new electronic sign to be constructed on Cherry Avenue and Hill Street.
An annual budget workshop has been scheduled for Wednesday, June 1.
The City reported they will be spending $1,063,162 to pay the Supplemental Education Revenue Augmentation Fund. The Redevelopment Agency approved payment to the state from the RDA’s affordable housing fund, but according to city officials, the agency would eventually have to pay that amount back to the affordable housing fund.