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City Council Tells Governor--Hands Off Our Money!

City Council has enacted a number of safeguards to keep Gov. Brown from being able to take funds from Menlo Park to pay off the state deficit.

In an effort to fend off an attempt by the state to dismantle local redevelopment agencies, the enacted a set of provisions Tuesday night that will protect the agency's $17 million fund, and hopefully stop a future hole in funding for local police officers' salaries. 

Through a series of three unanimous votes, the council passed two agreements during its regular meeting, making it easier to move redevelopment money into city coffers for capital projects and police services, and also establishing a new housing authority that will take over the management of $3 million in agency funds.

Cities all across California are taking similar actions, said City Manager Glen Rojas, in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's announcement last month that he plans to dismantle all redevelopment agencies in California and divert their existing funds toward battling the state's $25.4 billion deficit. Brown has marked July 1 as a tentative deadline for completing his plan.

"What we are doing here is defensible," Council Member Andy Cohen said. "If [state lawmakers] are successful, then we are going to have a much bigger problem than we have now."

Under the actual title of Community Development Agency, Menlo Park's redevelopment area covers 857 acres in the northeastern part of the city, primarily in the Belle Haven neighborhood.  With a current uncommitted balance of $17 million, Menlo Park could lose that money once Brown's plan goes through, city staff said Tuesday.

"He's taking a meat cleaver to the agencies and trying to take our money," City Attorney Bill McClure said. 

And because city management has routinely funneled $1.4 million in agency funds each year into the police department, the city would also have to find new funding for five police officer positions, Rojas said.

Besides using the agency's accumulated property tax revenue to fund capital improvement projects in the redevelopment area, the agency also funds gang and graffiti abatement, blight control and code enforcement, Rojas told the council. The City Council also serves as the agency's board of directors.

Much of the agency's revenue is locked into current and future projects, but the $17 million is discretionary. Tuesday's decisions make it easier for the council to move money out of the agency and into their control. 

Since it was formed in 1981, the agency has vastly improved eastern Menlo Park, Council Member Kelly Fergusson said.

"Where things had deplorable conditions before,  things have really turned around," Fergusson said. "We've come a long way. The Belle Haven neighborhood is a very decent neighborhood today."

The third safeguard, creating a council-led housing authority, actually grew out of Brown's plan. It allows cities to transfer redevelopment money into funds dedicated specifically for housing projects, amounting to roughly $3 million for Menlo Park.

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