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Turlockers protest Joe Debely RDA project

POSTED August 25, 2009 10:39 p.m.
While the City of Turlock’s Redevelopment Agency budget wasn’t up for discussion at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, that didn’t stop many concerned Turlockers from voicing their disapproval of plans to spend $2.8 million on a renovation of Turlock High School’s Joe Debely Stadium.
Seven Turlock residents took advantage of the Public Participation portion of the City Council agenda to bring up their concerns with the project.
“I’m not here to attack football,” said Planning Commissioner Soraya Fregosi. “I think it’s again questioning, ‘Is this a prudent decision?’”
Redevelopment Agency funding is generated by borrowing against future increases in property tax revenues. According to the City of Turlock Web site, RDA funds should be used to eliminate blight from specific designated areas of the city by redeveloping, reconstructing and rehabilitating.
In the past, RDA funding has been used to eliminate blight — and increase property values — by constructing the new Fire Station No. 1 and building infrastructure in the West Side Industrial Specific Plan.
Some residents near THS believe that the Joe Debely Stadium renovation might have the opposite effect. Increased noise and vehicle traffic could detrimentally impact the value of homes. Instead, residents lobbied for other projects identified for RDA funds but not yet completed, including the Carnegie Arts Center, War Memorial, public sidewalks and downtown improvements.
“There’s a purpose to those funds and I think we need to keep those funds going to where they belong,” said Turlocker Tony Rojas.
The availability of funding for the all-weather field was also a point of contention on Tuesday evening.
According to Turlock Redevelopment Manager Heidi McNally-Dial, original project area assessments are down about 5 percent from projections, while the amended area’s assessments are up a “little bit.” The State of California could also “borrow” as much as $3 million of RDA funds to patch their own $42 budget shortfall, though Turlock is banding together with cities across the state to fight that borrowing.
McNally-Dial said that, should the $3 million be taken, the impacts would be “devastating” on the entire RDA budget and could potentially even impact the Agency’s ability to finance construction of the City’s new $35 million Public Safety Facility.
“Basic math tells me that we have very limited funds,” Fregosi said. “The $2.8 million that would be redirected for a football field is not something I can get my head around.”
Concerns were also raised regarding the safety of the artificial turf field, the potential future costs for maintenance, and whether any conflict of interest existed as Vice Mayor Ted Howze, who introduced the idea of renovating Joe Debely using RDA funds, sits on the Turlock Youth Football Board of Directors and coaches a team.
Howze presented a letter from the Fair Political Practices Committee that found he had no financial conflict of interest in bringing the project before the council.
The council was disallowed from discussing the Joe Debely renovation on Tuesday as the item was not on their agenda, but the project should be a major talking point in an upcoming RDA workshop, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 at Turlock City Hall. At that meeting, the Redevelopment Agency will discuss the draft 2010-2014 Implementation and Housing Production Plan, which the State requires they update every five years.
The document will look back on past success while developing a strategic plan to implement the next five years of RDA funding. The plan will contain specific guidance on what projects will occur and how funding will be spent, but can be amended by the Redevelopment Agency at any time.
The final 2010-2014 Implementation and Housing Production Plan will be adopted in a Public Hearing in November, and will then be completed and sent to the State by the end of December.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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