The name’s Bond… RDA Bond.

All across the state, there is turmoil and confusion regarding the dissolution of Redevelopment Agencies. Brea is no exception. Except if you read the lead article in the current issue of BreaLine.

This 8 1/5 x 11 inch piece of real estate has become the number one launching pad for some of the most misleading, braggadocios and self serving “news” coming out of City Hall.

If you buy off on what staff writers pass off as journalism, our “… legacy of positive growth and significant infrastructure improvements is proof that redevelopment worked very well for Brea.”

There Have Been Benefits.

Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that a new high school, two fire stations, our civic and community centers and 750 new workforce housing units certainly benefit the community. I suppose the Brea Mall does as well.

These projects are a partial list and likely do not account for the majority of projects completed since the agency was founded in 1972. Oh, and before you start believing that “Brea was an early adopter” nonsense being spread around, The California Community Redevelopment Act was passed in 1945.

The passing of Prop 13 in 1978 firmly established the adversarial relationship between the state and cities, and it seems pretty clear that neither party is interested in mending fences… even if it could be paid for with future “tax increment.”

So What Is Tax Increment Anyway?

They toss this, and countless other cityspeak terms, around with apparently little or no interest in actually educating the general population. It’s not rocket science and it’s what’s saving our collective assets at the moment.

Simply put, when a redevelopment area is designated it’s property taxes are frozen at the current level. Then comes the fun part of floating bonds (federally insured), dreaming up projects (none of which actually get publicly approved), aggregating land (remember all the eminent domain battles), finding willing developers (eager to take advantage of the windfall) and painting intersections blue, turning abandoned railroad right-of-ways into trails and building a bigger better clubhouse on the old golf course.

Yeah, I’ll bet those projects are in perfect synch with redevelopment guidelines.

Poorly Written Legislation.  Surprise!

Unless there is better clarification in the law, successor agencies may be charged with meeting enforceable obligations entered into by the redevelopment agency as well as performing many other wind down functions. They will operate under Oversight Committees who will determine what will and will not move forward. It’s unclear what the full extent of Brea’s liabilities might ultimately be.

Statewide, for every $1 in revenue collected last year there was $18 of total indebtedness remaining. What’s the story here in Brea? Are our projects going to generate sufficient tax increment to keep us solvent? Anyone besides me interested in getting some answers in language we use every day? The career bureaucrats up in city hall need to remember that us folks out here on the street don’t speak gibberish.

Fast forward to today.

Yup, Brea’s RDA created almost $200 million in outstanding bond debt. Take that death grip off your wallet, it’s not up to you to pay it. Federally insured, remember? Tax increment, remember?

The mechanics for repayment should already be built into the process. Problem is, no one knows for sure. If they say they do, I’ll go out on a limb here, they’re lying.

Bond holders knew the risky nature of those tax free bonds. Real estate values could decline. Oops. Full tax increments may not be realized. Oops. Changes might occur in California law. Oops. Thanks Jerry.

Are The Skies Falling?

I think it’s very possible we may end up with a few orphaned projects. But Brea has always been good at sucking in unsuspecting developers, at holding their feet to the fire to milk projects for all they can get and in exchange maybe expediting a permit here and there or bumping up project density to help make projects pencil out.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that we launch into default panic.

But I do think it’s time for folks to step up and start asking the hard questions and demanding answers we can understand. Keep talkin’ that smack, keep printing that propaganda, and you’ll hear from us loud and clear come November.

Status Quo? Just Say No.

First draft written Sunday, September 14, 2008 – two years later, in light of recent events at City Council including the rash of salary raises and bonuses (even the ones they didn’t realize they were giving themselves), it still rings true.

The more I keep an eye on things, the more I get involved as opposed to sitting passively by letting the status quo prevail, the more I believe Brea is ripe for a complete retooling.  Managing the city’s affairs has evolved into a staff run conglomeration of revamped little fiefdoms many of which are more interested in perpetuating (justifying) their existence than promoting the general welfare of the city.

The Brea Dividend?

It’s shorthand for creating a mythical municipality that exists only in the minds of those naive enough to believe the propaganda.  We’re a small town and need to stop deluding ourselves into believing we’ve created some sort of suburban utopia.

We need to return to the days when a strong, well informed and decisive city council guided city staff to execute the council’s vision. We need to rethink the “business plan” that turned sales tax revenue into the holy grail.  We need to admit that Brea has almost three times the retail establishments that even the imaginary 150,000 population (we’re 40,000 strong) would sustain.

Brea businesses are cannibalizing themselves at an alarming rate – look around, how many vacant building are staring you in the face?  How many more years will the Tower Records building remain a monumental eyesore and stark reminder that “Downtown Brea” hasn’t become the regional destination so many had hoped for?

We’re all feeling the impact of this virtually never ending recession, that has already set unprecedented records in terms of unemployment, sent our financial, banking and housing industries into tailspins and inflicted serious, perhaps irreparable damage upon our quality of life for generations to come.

Rebuilding our community, from the ground up (not the top down) will require we get back to basics, that we create sensible expectations for ourselves by seeking a realistic blend of public services matched to our true resident population.  We need to develop an operating model for city governance and management based on sound business principals and not the whims of the few big fish in this small pond that wrongly feel some sense of entitlement to decide what’s best for the rest of us.