RP council vote plays role in saving downtown
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By Jud Snyder  August 30, 2013 12:00 am

Rohnert Park once had a thriving Community Development Commission, a city agency that did a lot of good work in building structures and roads within the city, based on state law.

But Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature in Sacramento dissolved the CDCs and redevelopment agencies statewide and took more than a million dollars of RP’s money to try and balance the state’s huge budget deficit. It worked pretty well in the state’s financial eyes.

But it left the cities with parcels of land that really didn’t belong to the city. They were in a different category called “governmental use.” State law says the city has to either buy these properties back or sell them to developers. The city has a successor agency to the CDC and they have a September deadline to dispose of these properties.

RP’s Economic Development Manager, Linda Babonis, came up with a Long Range Property Management Plan (LRPMP), and the city council approved it Tuesday night on a 4-1 vote.

What makes this move important is two of the properties are the empty parking lots between State Farm Drive and Lynn Conde Way, with City Center Drive on top and RP Expressway on the bottom. This is the area planned to soon become RP’s downtown area. It’s in a Priority Development Area (PDA) for this purpose.

(The PDA has the freeway on the west, commute rail tracks for SMART on the east, Copeland Creek on the south and Golf Course Drive at its northern tip.)

The state and local machinations needed to preserve this 282-acre triangle of land in the middle of the city are complicated with tax laws, health and safety laws, AB 1484, tax-exempt bonds and local rules and regulations and defy simple explanations. It’s more than just transferring governmental use properties to city ownership, for Rohnert Park cannot afford to buy them. They have a $3 million value. However, establishing an LRPMP sets up machinery to enable the city to buy the land earmarked for Downtown RP to meet a September deadline. Any LRPMP has to be approved by a city Oversight Board and the Dept. of Finance.

If approved, the land could be sold to developers at a profit for the city. The only negative vote on this plan came from vice-Mayor Joe Callinan. Since the acreage is planned for downtown function, he was skeptical about the city finding a buyer, for the property would already have many restrictions on its future use. He contended if the city could come up with $500,000, it could buy the property itself. Babonis agreed, but the city doesn’t have half a million dollars to spare and has a budget deficit on the books. 

“My whole concern is selling the property,” said Babonis. “It would go into our General Fund.”

If the LRPMP is approved, a state deadline will be met by mid-September and the Downtown RP vision will still exist.

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