With the fate of redevelopment agencies statewide still hazy at best, a split Turlock City Council decided to keep its options open Tuesday, approving a resolution which will allow Turlock to decide whether or not to retain its agency at a later date.
The move effectively informed the state that Turlock may eventually decide to issue a large “ransom” payment to the state in exchange for the right to keep its agency active, but is not yet committing to that payment, per the terms of the statewide redevelopment shutdown negotiated by the Legislature as a budget-savings measure. Without making the payment, plus subsequent yearly payments, Turlock's RDA would be forced to close.
As of right now, Turlock is uncertain how large that “ransom” payment may be. The state suggests Turlock owes $3.2 million to keep its agency open, while Turlock's own calculations suggest the figure to be closer to $1.6 million.
Perhaps most importantly to council members, the legality of the entire plan remains in question. The State Supreme Court could yet overturn the elimination of redevelopment agencies, as taking from cities may violate the state constitution, altered to prevent such takes by 2010's Proposition 22.
“This reflects the fact that the population of the State of California said to the state, ‘Leave the RDA money alone,’ and the State Legislature ignored that by saying, ‘If we can't take your money, we'll end your RDA and then take your money,’” Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden explained.
Turlock signed on to a friend of the court brief on Tuesday night, prepared by its RDA counsel, articulating that position to the State Supreme Court directly.
Until the court decides, however, the still-active portions of the law required the city to announce by Oct. 1 if it would retain its RDA by making that payment or if it would shutter its agency and forego future tax revenues. The move would be null and void should the law be overturned, but was required for Turlock to have the option to keep the agency, if it so chooses.
“We're housekeeping," said Councilwoman Mary Jackson. "We're gambling, we're playing poker, and we're bluffing."
But the “housekeeping” item was opposed by Vice Mayor Amy Bublak and Councilman Bill DeHart, who felt that agreeing to the terms put the state in a position of power. As Bublak and DeHart felt the state move was clearly illegal, they suggested Turlock should take no action which indicated the city may be willing to pay the state.
“It is a poker game, but we're betting on losing if we do it this way, in my mind,” Bublak said. “... If you have a good poker hand, you sit back and act like you have the winning hand.”
Despite Bublak and DeHart’s opposition, the resolution passed by a 3-2 vote, backed by Jackson, Councilman Forrest White, and Mayor John Lazar.
“By doing this, we’re not giving them a dime,” White said. “All we’re doing is keeping the option open if we do want to keep the agency.”
Bublak and DeHart remained staunchly opposed to the measure, even as it passed, arguing the state did not deserve even a penny for its “fundamental deception” and underhanded tactics.
“We all took an oath to uphold the constitution,” Bublak said. “It’s extortion. If you’re willing to give some money so they don't take it all, it’s illegal, it’s immoral, and it’s unethical.”
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