12:10 AM PST on Friday, January 21, 2011

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
The Press-Enterprise

Two Inland groups overseeing the redevelopment of former Air Force bases took steps this week to prevent the state from siphoning away the agencies’ funds.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the Inland Valley Development Agency hurried to authorize issuing up to $165 million in bonds to fund short-term debt and pay for ongoing efforts to turn the former Norton Air Force Base into San Bernardino International Airport. It’s an action they would have taken next year if Gov. Jerry Brown hadn’t proposed to do away with redevelopment agencies by July 1.

By issuing bonds now, agencies hope to lock in their funding before Brown can take it away. The agencies get their funding by collecting the increased tax revenue that results when development causes land values to rise. The agencies use that to pay off bonds or other debt taken on to redevelop an area.

“We would have done this eventually. We’re just accelerating it,” said Tim Sabo, the IVDA’s attorney. In a related action, the IVDA also committed to funding $400 million worth of projects — some already under way — at San Bernardino International Airport in an arrangement that combined a hodgepodge of sometimes vague agreements and plans into a single binding and enforceable agreement to legally lock in the IVDA’s responsibility to pay for the projects.

At the former March Air Force Base near Riverside, representatives of the March Joint Powers Authority governing board didn’t go as far but declared their intent Wednesday to issue bonds or take on debt if necessary to support redevelopment projects there, if it looks like Brown’s plan would take away a primary source to fund the agency’s projects.

Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster, a member of the March Joint Powers Commission, characterized the declaration as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with the governor’s office.

The March JPA, which has a redevelopment plan approved in 1996 that lists $471 million in projects, also approved using a county lobbyist in Sacramento and attempting to create a coalition of other military base redevelopment agencies.

Brown’s plan to do away with city and county redevelopment agencies has riled local agencies statewide. They say the redevelopment funds spur economic development and create jobs. His plan would shift $1.7 billion in funds to other agencies and programs such as Medi-Cal and courts, and eventually counties and cities.

On Tuesday, Riverside County supervisors voted unanimously to issue up to $155 million in bonds to fund redevelopment projects in unincorporated areas of the county.

It’s unclear whether agencies devoted to base redevelopment are included in the governor’s plan or whether they could be an exception. Each agency was authorized under the state’s redevelopment codes individually through state legislation.

“All of us are flummoxed by the governor’s proposal,” Buster said. “No one expected this.”

As for approving bond funding in a hurry, Buster agreed that agencies such as the JPA shouldn’t spend the money unwisely before talking to the state further.

“We haven’t done that here,” he said of the JPA’s vote, since his agency didn’t authorize issuing bonds, yet.

In an e-mailed statement Tuesday, spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford with the governor’s office responded, generally, to local efforts to cling to funds. Ashford said the agencies shouldn’t use already scarce funds for special projects that won’t generate jobs immediately.

After a speech in Sacramento on Wednesday, Brown also questioned whether local governments’ swift approval of redevelopment bonds is legal.

To read entire story, click here.