County to press state on Hwy. 12
Despite the fact that the county has filed suit against the state over redevelopment funds for Highway 12, the project will be on the next Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (ROPS) the county submits to the state Department of Finance.
The county filed the long-awaited suit last Tuesday over the state’s refusal to recognize both the Highway 12 project and the Roseland Village shopping center in Santa Rosa as obligations. And John Haig, the county’s redevelopment manager confirmed that both projects will be on the latest ROPS submitted to the Board of Supervisors today and to the Oversight Board on Feb. 25. The ROPS is due to be filed with the state Department of Finance on March 1.
First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said she’s relieved the county finally filed the suit, which the supervisors had approved last October.
“I’m convinced we have enforceable obligations,” Gorin said Monday. “We need to continue to press the state to agree.”
The suit came out of the state’s failure to approve $9.5 million for Phase 2 of the Highway 12 project and $6.6 million for Roseland Village. The suit also seeks to recover more than $2.2 million that the state demanded from the county without any written explanation.
Both Highway 12 and Roseland were part of the now-dissolved county Redevelopment Agency projects. When the Redevelopment Agency was dissolved in February 2012 as the result of a state Supreme Court decision in December 2011, the two projects, both long in the works, were thrown into limbo. The Highway 12 project, which was for sidewalks and streetlights and turn lanes among other improvements, was only a couple of months from going out to bid.
The county hasn’t decided if it will seek an expedited hearing on the suit.
“I recognize that there are other jurisdictions filing suit against the state,” Gorin said. “So it could be a long process.”
But she said she wants to talk with county counsel to see the pros and cons of asking for an expedited hearing and whether it would interfere with the county’s ability to prevail in the suit.
Gorin said she’s going to be appointed to the county’s Oversight Board that was named to dispose of the former redevelopment properties and projects.
“But the Highway 12 project will continue to be my top priority for Sonoma Valley,” she said.
Steve Cox is equally pleased that the suit was filed.
“The county’s lawsuit is consistent with any reasonable person’s interpretation of the state laws that dissolved redevelopment. The state Department of Finance has absolutely no legal basis for not recognizing the Highway 12 project as an obligation entered into by the Successor Agency, a duly formed local government agency,” he said. “As the county’s lawsuit states, the Department of Finance’s decisions are unconstitutional and illegal. I’m optimistic; it seems to me that this is an open-and-shut case and the court must rule in the county’s favor.”
Cox was an original member of the Springs Redevelopment Advisory Committee and served as its chair, so he has been involved with the project for years.
“The county’s complaint also points out that there are third-parties who have been damaged by the state’s illegal actions. The county made agreements with many public and private third-parties to finish the Highway 12 project, including agreements with property owners along the highway for right-of-way acquisition,” he said. “When these property owners agreed to give up their land, they relied on the county’s promise to improve the highway, which would increase their property values. The state is preventing the county from fulfilling this promise. I think it is only a matter of time before some property owners file lawsuits of their own, demanding that the work get done.”
The suit claims that when the former redevelopment agency was dissolved on Feb. 1, 2012, Phase 2 of the state Highway 12 improvement project was incomplete. “Presently, and at all times material to this action, the condition of State Highway 12 is and has been a public safety hazard, and continues and has continued to limit economic development and redevelopment of the Springs Redevelopment Area,” the suit says.
The suit wants the court to rule that the agreements between the Oversight Board and the county for Highway 12 and Roseland Village are valid contracts and that the Oversight Board can use future tax revenues from the Redevelopment Property Tax Trust Fund and cash on hand to complete the projects.
“I’m glad we have a Board of Supervisors, a Successor Agency and county executives who are willing to take on the state and recover what has been stolen from the Springs community,” Cox added.