Santa Clara County Supervisors Ignore Sunnyvale

You may have heard yesterday how the Santa Clara County Supervisors have been trumpeting the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, and how this action will “benefit” Santa Clara County residents.  Apparently, none of the supervisors really understand the cost to Sunnyvale residents of this action, and what damage this “benefit” will do to core Sunnyvale services – police, fire, library, parks, and infrastructure.  In Sunnyvale, this isn’t something to be celebrated.  It’s an outrage.

Decades ago, the City of Sunnyvale loaned a huge amount of its own money to create a redevelopment agency and attempt to fix our blighted downtown.  When this loan was made, state law guaranteed Sunnyvale that that loan would be repaid through property taxes.  And this was all a good thing, because eliminating our downtown blight means many millions in additional property and sales taxes each year, all of which would go to state, county, and city services.  In the long term, everyone wins.  So Sunnyvale made a long-term investment of our own money in our downtown, counting on the State to keep its promise to us.  And property tax money has been gradually repaying that loan each year, under redevelopment law.  This year’s repayment alone was supposed to be $6 million – money budgeted for police and fire and other core services.

But instead of honoring the agreement and making us whole, the State legislature broke its promise and eliminated the RDA and our right to be repaid.  In effect, they took the money that Sunnyvale borrowed from its general fund and gave it away to solve their own problems – to fill part of its own hole and pay money to the county that the state was supposed to come up with on its own.  And not just a little money – we have been robbed of some $140 million over the next fifteen years.  That repayment of our original general fund loan was necessary to fund critical city services for the next fifteen years.  And it’s all gone now.  All because the Governor and the State legislature were unable to behave like adults, do their jobs properly, and keep their word to Sunnyvale.

We don’t know how bad the damage to Sunnyvale truly is, yet.  Staff is spending a lot of time figuring out just what this will mean to core services that you and I depend on in our daily lives.  To give you some perspective, $6 million is twice as bad as the worst cuts we made in the past three years to deal with the worst economic downturn in 100 years.  While I’m trying hard not to be alarmist, I am expecting bad things, obviously.  It helps that the economy is now improving, but how much help that will be is still to be seen.

Proponents of schools, health care, and other county social services certainly have reason to be happy with the dissolution of RDAs.  But Sunnyvale wasn’t one of those many cities that abused redevelopment – we used it exactly as it was intended, and we were quite literally robbed as a result.  Sunnyvale residents won’t benefit from this action at all.  We’ll simply be trading many core and already overtaxed city services for county services.  Better hospitals is a good thing.  But what good is a better hospital, if an EMT can’t arrive quickly enough to apply a defibrillator?  In Sunnyvale, this action benefits second-responders at the expense of first-responders.  Or it benefits schools at the expense of our library.  Or it benefits county parks at the expense of Sunnyvale parks.  That’s not a “win” for us.

The Supervisors are right that most Santa Clara County residents should be happy with the RDA action.  But with consideration to the Supervisors, many of whom I know and all of whom I greatly respect, in the case of Sunnyvale residents, the Supervisors are wrong.  Sunnyvale residents shouldn’t be grateful for the State’s action – they should be very, very angry.

And I suspect the same is true for residents of Morgan Hill, Mountain View, and a couple of other cities that used RDAs in good faith and as intended.

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