POMONA — In the wake of a Grand Jury report critical of the Community Redevelopment Agency, in part for its inadequate investigation of developers' financial histories, the agency announced this week that it will conduct more thorough background checks before making agreements with developers.
In addition, the Redevelopment Agency will include a clause in development agreements stipulating that if a developer fails to provide complete and accurate information about his background, the agreement may be terminated, said Sanford Sorenson, Pomona's director of community development.
"It's very much like an employment application," Sorenson said. "You have to rely on the applicant to provide information. . . . If you find out there has been some serious omission or error in fact, that would be grounds for termination."
The new policy regarding background checks on developers was included in Sorenson's formal response to recommendations made by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. The response was announced by City Administrator A. J. Wilson at Monday's City Council meeting.
The Grand Jury report, released last week, found that the agency was understaffed and did not have adequate procedures for evaluating developers, monitoring projects or keeping track of expenditures for each project. The agency also has not constructed enough low- to moderate-income housing, as required under redevelopment law, the report said.
While he disagreed with some of the report's findings, Sorenson said, "it's very important to recognize the potential value of this independent evaluation as a tool for increasing the effectiveness of redevelopment in Pomona."
In addition to requiring more extensive background checks on developers, Sorenson said, the agency will use more precise accounting procedures and will increase its staff so that it can assign a project manager to monitor each development.
Currently, three staff members supervise developments in 10 project areas.
When he presented the agency's response to the report Monday night, Wilson stressed that most of the problems noted by the Grand Jury stemmed from the agency having too small a staff.
"We were criticized for being understaffed," Wilson said. "Typically, government is criticized for being over-staffed."
Pleased With Response
Mayor Donna Smith said she is pleased with the Redevelopment Agency's response to the report. Additional staff members should enable the agency to keep better track of redevelopment projects, she said.
"I'm satisfied with the fact that we're going to get Mr. Sorenson and (the) Redevelopment (Agency) some help down there," Smith said. "Things should be 100% better."
But Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant, while acknowledging that the agency is understaffed, said inadequate procedures for reaching agreements and monitoring projects have been a long-standing problem.
"For 15 years, I've been telling (city officials) that the City of Pomona needs procedures for all the departments, and I'm glad the Grand Jury has said the same thing," Bryant said.
Sorenson took exception to the report's finding that the agency has not constructed enough low- and moderate-income housing. The report said the agency has built only 500 such units citywide. The construction of this housing, the report said, "is only a beginning."
"Certainly, this particular area is in need," the Grand Jury reported, noting that crime and unemployment rates for Pomona are disproportionately high and that 33% of the city's families receive some form of federal assistance.
"That's kind of a stupid thing to say when they didn't relate it to the funds available," Sorenson said. He added that the failure to build enough lower-income housing is "a generic criticism" made of redevelopment agencies statewide.
Sorenson said the report did not take into account that the agency has committed 20% of the tax increment revenue to be received from redevelopment to provide low- and moderate-income housing, as required by law.
That money will fund the construction of more than 600 units of low- and moderate-income housing that are "in various stages of approval," Sorenson said. At least 60 units of this housing will be ready for occupancy this year, he said, and all of it should be available within two years.
However, Grand Jury foreman Manuel Gallegos said auditors did not find any evidence that additional low- and moderate-income housing units had been proposed.
"The auditors didn't find any of the plans," Gallegos said. "They didn't find anything that had been approved. If there was something in the works, this was not made known to the auditors."
In his written response to the Grand Jury report, Sorenson also criticized press coverage of the report, saying it has been "obviously biased, taken out of context and many of the comments and conclusions (published in the press) are not even in the report."