By John Howard | 06/30/11 12:00 AM PST

California’s redevelopment agencies are taking their fight for survival directly to the California Supreme Court, saying Gov. Brown and the Legislature ignored the voters’ will and violated the constitution by dismantling hundreds of local agencies.

The legal action – the third major court fight in three years over billions of dollars in redevelopment money – is expected to be launched as early as this week.

The agencies’ allegation is not new, but the strategy is.

The lawsuit will seek the high court’s “original jurisdiction” to resolve the dispute, said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities.

“The voters, by overwhelmingly approving Proposition 22 just seven months ago, explicitly prohibited what the governor and Legislature have just agreed to do. They conclusively and completely barred the state from diverting redevelopment money.”

“They tried to write the bills to prevent this (going to the high court), but it is unconstitutional to tie the hands of the state Supreme Court,” he added. “They even have gone so far as to allow the filing of the suit only in Sacramento Superior Court. That is only one piece of the minutiae that is in those bills.”

Capitol sources said the governor signed, or will sign, the two-bill, special-session package abolishing the redevelopment agencies. The governor’s press office, however, declined to discuss the issue. His signature on the bills will trigger the lawsuit, the League of California Cities says.

The Brown administration has sought to strip some 398 redevelopment agencies of their funding – in effect, abolish them – across California and use their money, some $1.7 billion the first year and $400 million annually after that for education, social services and other programs.

The agencies are creatures of the cities, taking a portion of the money from local property taxes – typically, about 15 percent – and using the money to eliminate blight and stimulate economic growth.

The administration says the new plan strips the agencies of their funding but allows some to continue if they turn over future money for other purposes. The agencies and their allies have adamantly opposed the governor’s proposal, and say by halting the funding they, in effect, kill the agencies.

In response to a questionnaire, officials at 50 cities across California say their local redevelopment agencies would be forced to close down, and many others are likely to follow suit, according to the League.

Currently, the redevelopment agencies collect about $5 billion annually.

Cities have vigorously defended the agencies, although a number of critics contend the money has been used for purposes that have little to do with blight, such as paying for the salaries of public officials and building high-end projects such as golf courses and swank restaurants.

The critics of redevelopment – critics that include Brown, a former mayor of Oakland – believe the money could be better spent in tight economic times when the state’s unemployment remains in double digits and recovery from the recession still looks bleak.

The latest legal fight over redevelopment is not unique: The League has gone to court twice before on the issue.

Three years ago, it prevailed in a decision by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly that the Schwarzenegger administration improperly sought to tap the agencies’ money. The following year, the same judge upheld an attempt by the administration to capture $2.05 billion in redevelopment, payable to the state in two installments. The decision currently is under appeal.

The third lawsuit would bypass the lower courts and go directly to the state Supreme Court.

The new budget followed months of negotiations over redevelopment.

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