Thursday, December 29, 2011

California Supreme Court Upholds Abolition of Redevelopment Agencies

In an opinion sure to have state-wide impact on the nearly 400 existing redevelopment agencies, the California Supreme Court held, “Redevelopment agencies ... do not have protected right to exist that immunizes them from statutory dissolution by the legislature.”  The ruling in California Redevelopment Assn. v. Matosantos (Cal., Dec. 29, 2011, S194861) 2011 WL 6822391, has broad implications for for public safety services.  Redevelopment agencies had been used to siphon local revenue away from core services, such as law enforcement and fire protection, but Thursday’s ruling makes it much more difficult for cities and counties to continue the practice.

The Court ruled on two state laws addressing so-called “Redevelopment Agencies.”  The Court held, “Assembly Bill 1X26, the Dissolution Measure, is a proper exercise of the legislative power vested in the legislature by the State Constitution.”  The Court explained that the power to create entities such as redevelopment agencies carried with it the corollary power to dissolve those entities.  However, the Court invalidated the measure’ companion bill, A.B. 1X27, which conditioned further redevelopment agency operations on additional payments by the agencies’ community sponsors to state funds benefitting schools and special districts.  The Court found this mandate violated Proposition 22, which amended the Constitution to prevent the state from redirecting redevelopment funds.

The opinion also chronicles how community redevelopment agencies, formed to combat urban decay, developed into the principal instrument of economic development for most cities.  These agencies principally acquire and transfer property on favorable terms for residential or commercial development.  Unable to levy taxes, the agencies rely on tax increment financing, whereby the property tax revenues for government entities other than the redevelopment agency are frozen, while revenues from any increase in values are awarded to the redevelopment agency on the theory that the increase is the result of redevelopment. The tax increment financing has, “sometimes been misused to subsidize the city’s economic development through the diversion of property tax revenue for other tax entities.”  The agencies are used to shield property tax revenue from other governmental agencies and create a shell game amongst local governments with respect to property tax funds.

The tax increment financing is a hot political issue because of the arguable unfair advantage it provides cities over school districts and local taxing agencies, and the loss of revenue to the state’s general fund.  While Governor Brown considered eliminating redevelopment agencies altogether as a partial mean of closing the state’s projected budget deficit, the legislation enacted “freezes” conditions by placing restrictions on modification of existing plans and barring creation of new agencies.  The legislation was intended to preserve redevelopment assets and revenues to fund core local services, i.e. public safety and education.  The dissolution component transfers control of redevelopment agency assets to the local public entity that created the agency and requires performance of existing obligations.  The Court invalidated the provision that created an exemption for agencies that agreed to make specified payments to other governmental funds.