State appeals Hwy. 12 ruling

As expected, the state’s Department of Finance has appealed the court ruling that both the county’s Highway 12 sidewalks project and the Roseland shopping plaza in Santa Rosa were enforceable obligations.

Back in August, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene Balonon ruled in the county’s favor after the county sued the state over whether or not the two former redevelopment projects were enforceable obligations and could be funded with money from the former redevelopment agency.

“We expected the state would appeal,” said Steve Shupe, the county counsel in the matter.

But as of now, Shupe said, the county doesn’t have a schedule as to when briefs need to be filed or a date set for oral arguments in the matter.

He thought it might be sometime this summer before a date is set.

The state’s Department of Finance had disallowed new contracts for the two projects on numerous occasions. The original contracts were voided when the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state, in December 2011, and dissolved the more than 300 redevelopment agencies statewide. The county’s Successor Agency re-entered into the contracts for Highway 12 and Roseland according to the letter of the law, but the state thought otherwise and the county sued. And won.

The county has a second suit pending against the state for the money involved in the two projects – somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.8 million. The state wants the money, the county wants the court to decide, and Balonon’s ruling on the enforceable obligations adds to the county’s case that it has a right to the money. But that suit won’t be heard until May.

Shupe isn’t sure the appeals court is even the end of the line for the suit.

“If they lose, the state may seek an appeal to the California Supreme Court,” he said. And, he added, if the appeals court decides for the state, the county could take it to the Supreme Court.

Shupe said he hopes that after briefs are filed in the appeal, it will move quickly, especially if there have been similar cases before the appeals court.

“So far, the trial courts have been pretty consistent in their decisions,” he said.

The county was a couple of months shy of putting the Highway 12 project out to bid in early 2012 when the redevelopment agency was dissolved. The long-delayed and half-finished project went on the shelf where it collected dust for about 15 months.

But back in May, the county’s board of supervisors decided to use the funds that would have gone to the redevelopment agencies to finish the two projects. And if it won the suit against the state, it would use the cash on hand to pay back the county’s general fund.

Right now, the project is again set to go out to bid sometime around the beginning of March – if the county can cut down a number of trees before bird nesting season. But that has irked a number of Valley residents.

According to Tom O’Kane, the county’s deputy director of Public Works, there are 31 trees with trunks that are six-inches across or bigger – including 20 oaks and a 72-inch eucalyptus, along with about 45 smaller trees and shrubs – that will be removed.

O’Kane and 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin will have a walkthrough along the corridor today, Friday, to look at some of the trees that will be felled.

In an email to some of her constituents, Gorin said it was important to settle the issue before nesting season. “If we miss the nesting season, construction will be delayed six months to a year. So we are eager to move this forward. And I’m a bit concerned that the County may back away from its funding commitment if we delay over a year.”

City doesn’t have hearing date

While the county has already won its lawsuit against the state over redevelopment issues, the City of Sonoma has yet to have a hearing date set on its suit.

“Our suit is still in the queue,” said City Manager Carol Giovanatto. “It’s not set for a hearing yet.”

The city filed its suit against the state’s Department of Finance in August.

“There are about 100 (redevelopment) cases ahead of us,” Giovanatto said. “We’re hoping for a hearing sometime this year.”

She’s hoping that if a couple of similar suits are successful, it could open things up for the city.

Giovanatto is amazed at the amount of time and money being spent on the redevelopment suits. She thinks the state didn’t expect the number of suits that have been filed.