Who’s to blame for the abolition of California’s redevelopment agencies?

January 23, 2012

Mike Brennler

OPINION By MIKE BRENNLER

Lately we have heard a great deal of grumbling concerning Governor Brown’s decision to abolish Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRDA).

Much of the grumbling comes directly from city officials who complain that the Governor’s actions are akin to larceny.  These officials use rhetoric such as, “we were robbed by Sacramento” and “the State is stealing our money.”

Rarely will you hear municipal officials acknowledge that abuses exist within their own CRDA and when abuses in the system are acknowledged, the officials normally point to examples in other cities, with the caveat that their own city should not be punished for the actions of others.

Such blame games have not created an environment whereby the abuses can be dissected and rectified.

In concept, the formation of CRDA was sound. Created in 1945, the idea was to allow cities and counties to address urban blight which was defined as substantial, prevalent adverse physical and economic conditions that inhibited community development and growth. It was not created for some of the uses we see employed today, including ongoing maintenance and marketing strategies.

Like many good ideas, over time the CRDA rules were exploited, often for political purposes.

An excellent educational video entitled “Billions In Fraud & Waste, Who Will Stop it” can be accessed through the website www.fulldisclosure.net. It is a resource for those wishing to learn more about the abuses in CRDA system.

As a past member of the Atascadero CRDA I came to view the agency as the political tool it was. In contemplating and voting on agenda items I relied on the representation of both the city manager and city attorney as to the legitimacy of the actions we were taking. After educating myself I became uncomfortable with some of the actions and expenditures that have occurred.

After analysis of the laws it became apparent that expenditures of CRDA dollars for certain maintenance functions were in direct conflict with RDA law specifically, 33445 (a) (3) which states in part, “A redevelopment agency shall not pay for the normal maintenance or operations of buildings, facilities, structures, or other improvements that are publicly owned.”

There were also expenditures for projects outside the established CRDA zone and I have knowledge that a principled city employee had conversations with the city manager expressing concerns about to the propriety of such expenditures.

One such expenditure was for the Alvord Field project, where the concession stand was remodeled. This expenditure approximated $200,000.00 which some may argue is excessive government spending.

Although I am a strong supporter of youth sports this particular expenditure should not have come through the CRDA, in part because the field is outside the CRDA zone. It should have been funded through the General Fund.

One additional matter of impropriety deals with the proposed downtown pedestrian bridge. Although I support the concept, I have voiced opposition to Council Member O’Malley’s participation and voting on the project because a member of his immediate family owns property within 25 feet of the proposed bridge and stands to benefit greatly.  When confronted publically on the appropriateness of his actions, O’Malley obfuscated.

Thus far O’Malley has participated in and voted on the expenditure of over $1 million which is on face value, unethical and dishonest.

In my opinion the state abolished the CRDA system in accordance with the old adage “you abuse it and you lose it.”

My hope is that the state will reinstate the CRDA system by restructuring it, reforming CRDA law and establishing the necessary auditing mechanisms to bring about accountability in the people who govern the CRDA.

Mike Brennler 30 year resident of Atascadero, former mayor and member of the Atascadero Redevelopment Agency.


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17 Comments

  1. Paperboys says:

    RDA money comes from property taxes and is intended to improve identified blighted areas within a city or county. How it works, is a property gets a base, assessed value when the RDA is formed and property taxes (1%) are based on that base assessed value .
    Any time a property within the RDA district is re-assessed, due to being sold or improvements being made, the difference from that original base tax amount and the new amount (after reassessment) is siphoned off and stays with the RDA. The other property tax receivers — the state, county, city, school or special districts — keep to their same allocations from the original base taxes.
    So in a robust economy, when people are buying and selling property quickly and developing vacant or run down properties, RDA money adds up fast.
    School districts hated RDAs because they took property taxes away from them directly, but after the state took over funding schools through the general fund, most of that opposition died away. In SLO County, San Luis Coastal School District is a basic aid district and still gets the majority of its money from property taxes, so any RDAs in their territory have to cut them in on the deal or they will fight it.
    Gov. Brown and the Legislature are using the same old argument — that RDAs are taking away money needed for schools.
    Also, RDAs are supposed to be temporary with a drop dead date built in. Cities and Counties have to justify an RDA remaining in place after the expiration date, because that was when they said the “blight” would be removed.
    Trouble is, too many RDAs have stepped outside their original mission to eradicate blight and started doing pet projects and stuff that’s really outside the RDA’s responsibility, like this creek bridge mentioned in the article.
    It’s too bad because RDAs have a lot of potential to do a lot of good in a community.

    (17) 17 Total Votes - 17 up - 0 down
    • racket says:

      Thank you.

      (10) 10 Total Votes - 10 up - 0 down
    • obispan says:

      I gotta disagree on the ped bridge. Seems it might go a ways toward creating a downtown pedestrian core which is lacking. Gotta get people out of their cars. Would not that up the value of property and jump start projects that would further increase needed tax revenue? Remember downtown Paso back-in-the-day? What a dump…buts lots of cool buildings, potential, and nowhere to go but up. The problem is at the state level. I hate to tell you, but 5 billion is chump change to the state and will be immediately wasted. At least we get to argue over projects at a local level.

      (-5) 5 Total Votes - 0 up - 5 down
      • bobfromsanluis says:

        um, 5 BILLION is chump change? Maybe 5 Million would be considered that by the state, but surely not 5 Billion ?

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. Cindy says:

    The “Atascadero Sopranos” didn’t like having a cop on the City Council (despite being recently retired from Law Enforcement) and that was obvious from the moment the election results were announced. They saw to it that every council meeting was disrupted to the extent that by the time the members got down to business, everyone was exhausted from listening to the Tom and Jerry cadre obfuscate the issues. Make no mistake about it, the ABA was the brain child of Tom and Jerry and they were organized to undermine the transparency issues that Mike was elected to initiate and monitor on behalf of the citizens. Many citizens appreciated Mike Brennler and many more have come to appreciate him, as we learned more about him after he decided that he could effectively offer greater transparency as a private citizen rather than as a seated council member. Now that so many have learned more about him and the truth behind what he stands for, my hope is that he will one day do us the honour of sitting on our city council again. Mike Brennler, we need you.

    (22) 34 Total Votes - 28 up - 6 down
  3. godislanguage says:

    Consider the source.

    Throwing somebody under the bus is par for Brennler, since his personality was formed by being a LEO. This is why he’s not in politics anymore (imho).

    Central Coast News didn’t mention that in Brennler’s bio (SLO LEO). I believe he’s also a police union negotiator.

    His tactics on the Atascadero City Council by “dumping” allegations on the chief of police at the time is another example. Appeared to this citizen of grand standing and pandering to the media and constituents.

    Yes, Mike Brennler is uses the 4th arm of government quite well….crying like a baby about someone to whomever will listen.

    We are a nation of too many laws and LEO’s don’t make good politicians, they become puppets of the rich or worse, the media serving there own ego.

    Brennler’s ego and personality was in conflict with many the day he rode into Atascadero politics riding on his high horse.

    This is a political mud sligging piece, since Brennler’s credibility as an objective journalist is questionable to say the least.

    (-36) 58 Total Votes - 11 up - 47 down
    • BeenThereDoneThat says:

      O.k. so I get that you aren’t a big fan of Brennler (I am pretty neutral on him) but don’t you think that there has been abuse?

      I saw that here in Paso, where I live, that the city was using money for handicap access at street corners. I am not against handicap access but I AM against it coming from redevelopment and not general fund. I don’t see handicap access as urban blight. It is a totally different issue. I see that as the point Mr. Brennler was making about all these funds and the misappropreation.

      (31) 37 Total Votes - 34 up - 3 down
      • Typoqueen says:

        This we can agree on. SLO is spending thousand on a tiny strip of sidewalk even though the businesses around it and most people feel that it’s not needed. The cities are abusing the RDA program. I see this as another good way to cut back on govt. waste.

        (14) 16 Total Votes - 15 up - 1 down
        • unlisted says:

          SLO city does not have RDA. They are using general funds for those improvements. It may be waste, but not the waste of RDA funds that BTDT objected to.

          (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
          • Typoqueen says:

            hmm, okay if you say so, I stand corrected.

            (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
    • standup says:

      The city personnel didn’t like Brennler because he called a spade a spade. He may be ex law enforcement but I do know him personally and he doesn’t use his previous occupation to intimidate. He is facts driven and he knows how to investigate fraud and wrongdoing. Kudos Mike for making Wade uneasy, he deserves it.

      (23) 29 Total Votes - 26 up - 3 down
    • pasoparent5 says:

      godislanguage, You sound like Wade McKinney, Tom O’Malley, Jerry Clay, Al or Roberta Fonzi, or former APD Chief Jim Mulhall.

      Regardless of your true identity, you clearly missed the top of the page where it says OPINION. Mr.Brennler submitted his words to CCN and they accepted them for print. You, too, are welcome to use your real name and also submit your OPINION. I’m sure CCN [oh, BTW, it’s Cal Coast News, not ‘Central Coast News’] would also publish your rebuttal.

      I’ve never met Mike Brennler. Honestly, I’ve both agreed and disagreed w/Mike Brennler’s words and actions but I do admire him for standing up for what he believes in. He served as Mayor and tried to get some transparency in that crooked A-town city government. Now he’s still involved as a citizen and it’s apparent that some in the good ol’ boy network [apparently yourself] just want him to go away. He’s not “crying like a baby”, godislanguage. He’s standing up, blowing the horn and pulling the curtain away from local corruption.

      (18) 20 Total Votes - 19 up - 1 down
  4. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    I agree with Mr. Brennler. Like too many Gov. programs we have, they all start with good intentions but with time every piece of s**t politician finds a loophole in it to exploit.

    (30) 32 Total Votes - 31 up - 1 down
  5. racket says:

    Interesting opinion piece.

    Perhaps Mr. Brennler could clear up where, exactly, CRDA funds come from.

    Are they “manna from heaven,” ie tax monies collected from people outside the area?

    Or, are they taxes collected from Atascaderans, that could be deployed elsewhere in Atascadero for the benefit of the community?

    Thanks.

    (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
  6. rogerfreberg says:

    This sounds like another grumbling about ‘turf’.

    If a decision is sound, then as post conventional thinkers with some money to invest in our communities… then the project should go forward.

    I do like what our governor is doing… anything that breaks up the cosy little coffee groups is fine with me.

    (9) 17 Total Votes - 13 up - 4 down
  7. RayCollins says:

    Good opinion piece. Too often, cronyism dominates local gov’t in the form development.

    (33) 33 Total Votes - 33 up - 0 down
    • IronHub says:

      It’s refreshing to hear an opinion such as this from one who was intimately involved in the system. Usually there’s so much pussy-footing collusion between elected co-conspirators that we rarely hear this kind of candor. Thanks, Mr. Brennler.

      (34) 36 Total Votes - 35 up - 1 down

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