Gilroy council vows to find ways to improve downtown
The final chapter of Gilroy’s crazy redevelopment agency saga
came to a close on Monday night. And this time, it’s official.
After months of discussion, debate and haggling over the idea of
bringing back a redevelopment agency for the City of Gilroy to help
revitalize its blighted areas in and around the downtown, the
council decided to shoot the idea down once and for all.
Gilroy council vows to find ways to improve downtown
The final chapter of Gilroy’s crazy redevelopment agency saga came to a close on Monday night. And this time, it’s official. Really.
After months of discussion, debate and haggling over the idea of bringing back a redevelopment agency for the City of Gilroy to help revitalize its blighted areas in and around the downtown, the council decided to shoot the idea down once and for all.
Monday’s vote-although unanimous-was not without emotion.
“I want to thank everyone who worked on this,” said Councilman Al Pinheiro, the biggest supporter of an RDA, and the one who initiated the process to reactivate the long-dormant agency. “This is the second time that the RDA was kept from going forward. I was a proponent of this because I felt it was a good thing. And I don’t understand why an RDA, in its basic form, doesn’t get support. I’d rather see the money stay in our city instead of letting it get sent far away. But, I also said if it wasn’t the will of this council, I would stop it.”
Requiring four votes for passage, the motion to bring the RDA back to the city has stagnated with a 3-3-split vote in recent months.
Without the necessary votes, the council decided that it was time to move on for the city’s political well being and to put the issue to rest before the city spent any more money on an agency that may never come out of hibernation.
Despite the 7-0 vote to put a halt on all RDA effort, the city did not come out of the deal unscathed. Gilroy had already spent $48,000 to study RDA feasibility and create a survey map area. It is estimated that the entire process to bring back the agency would have cost and additional $140,000 and have taken roughly 10 more months to activate.
After Pinheiro spoke Monday night, everyone on the dais had a chance to get in their comments before the decisive vote.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising point came from Councilman Roland Velasco when he read an excerpt from a Chamber of Commerce newsletter that cited a tour of downtown and its needs. The newsletter addressed the city’s abundant problem of blight in the downtown.
Velasco then told the council that the newsletter he read from was dated July 15, 1985.
“And still nothing has been done. Even the recent economic boom didn’t change the problems in our downtown,” he said. “I never said the RDA was the magic pill to solving all problems for the downtown, but the money it generated could have been used in conjunction with other revenue sources. As it stands now, your tax money is going to politicians in Sacramento and they send it wherever they want. Now this council has decided to sit back and watch the RDA bridge burn.”
In addition to Pinheiro and Velasco, Councilmen Peter Arellano, Craig Gartman and Mayor Tom Springer addressed the issue one final time. Councilmen Charles Morales and Bob Dillon remained silent.
“I was in favor of this until I started doing the research,” said Gartman who has been viewed as the swing vote. “The RDA was created in the 50s, revamped in the 60s, improved in the 70s, revitalized in the 80s and downgraded in the 90s. Today’s RDA is not the same RDA Hollister, Morgan Hill and Salinas benefit from. And the definition of blight has changed. There’s not a building in our area that meets the new blight requirements, and I don’t believe we would have the legal ground to stand on to identify blight in this community.”
In order to qualify for RDA monies, buildings have to meet both the definition of physical and economic blight. And without the widespread blight, Gartman said he wasn’t sure the RDA could even recoup the $100,000-plus spent activating it.
Springer saw Monday’s vote as a way to stop a once-innocent concept that went awry.
“RDA’s potentially have a place,” Springer said. “Originally, we brought it up as a way to only fix the downtown. But the area kept expanding outward to maximize the revenue stream by capturing as much area as possible. Once you start the process, the greed factor enters into it.”
Springer added that he feared the power of eminent domain could be added to the RDA if future councils were pressured.
The city has had an RDA on the books for years but it has been inactive because there is no formal redevelopment plan and survey area map in place. An attempt to create a plan was rejected by voters 2-1 in 1989.
It was projected that an RDA would raise approximately $1.4 million over its first 10 years to improve blighted areas identified in the survey area.
An RDA works by freezing property taxes paid to the county based on the property’s current assessed value. As improvements are made and the property’s assessed value rises, 75 percent of the additional tax revenue is used by the city’s redevelopment agency for future improvements.
Monday marked the fifth time that the council has voted on the issue in the last two months.
While the RDA is now dead and buried, the council all agree that finding a solution to the downtown is a priority. The council will discuss downtown infrastructure on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Gilroy Senior Center Meeting Room, 7371 Hanna Street.