Efforts to divide what’s left of the City of Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency cash on hand — about $28 million — sparked intense disagreements between city representatives and their county counterparts on the seven-member ad hoc oversight committee. Rejected out of hand was the $14 million City Hall had hoped to set aside for a new police station, but that was expected. More troubling to city reps was the 5-to-2 Oversight Committee vote that they’d have to pay back the $350,000 they’d already spent to build two downtown bathrooms.
The California Supreme Court ordered all redevelopment agencies shut down early this year after litigation between the California League of Cities and the State Legislature over the Legislature’s right to raid the agencies’ coffers. At issue is what’s to become of the agencies’ assets. The Santa Barbara Oversight Committee — led by County Executive Chandra Wallar — was sharply skeptical about City Hall’s claims that it had already incurred significant debts and obligations on 40 major projects and hence was legally entitled to keep the funds set aside for those projects. Some committee members thought City Hall was trying to “hide the money” and were none too subtle in expressing their feelings.
The stakes in what would otherwise be an esoteric battle of bookkeepers are extremely high. For example, City Hall has $5 million in redevelopment funds secured to build affordable housing, which members of the Oversight Committee indicated needs to be spent retiring bond debt. Also in question is the $350,000 the Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency set aside for the city’s general fund to pay for two “restorative justice” cops, six social service outreach workers, and six downtown hosts to address the needs of the chronically homeless as well as visitors who might feel harassed by street people. Without the Redevelopment Agency’s funds, the City Council will have to find the money somewhere else or cut the program.