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Redevelopment Agency Extension Protested : Thousand Oaks: The siphoning off of taxes is causing harm to the county's special districts, officials maintain in a financial survey.

September 21, 1993|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Negotiations over Thousand Oaks' proposal to extend the life of its downtown redevelopment agency heated up Monday, as county officials urged city leaders to loosen their grip on property-tax dollars.

A three-member majority on the City Council wants to prolong the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Redevelopment Agency, which collects property taxes from parcels downtown and uses the money for landscaping, bike paths and other projects.

Although the redevelopment agency passes 20% of its take on to the county, administrators there say their budget has shrunk alarmingly because Thousand Oaks keeps the bulk of tax dollars within the city.

The community college, fire protection and flood control districts have also protested, arguing that taxes generated along the boulevard should support vital county-wide services, not local beautification projects.

In a hostile report scheduled for release today, representatives of the county and special districts contend that their agencies will lose millions of dollars if Thousand Oaks extends the redevelopment agency's life to 2023.

Bleakly, the report outlines projected shortfalls if the city continues to siphon away property taxes through the redevelopment agency. Services ranging from child-abuse prevention to fire-fighting to storm-drain maintenance could suffer, officials said.

The report also questioned Thousand Oaks' claim that the four-mile downtown boulevard, which generates hefty sales-tax receipts, remains "blighted" and needs revitalization. And county officials denounced the city for failing to provide a detailed list of redevelopment projects.

Thousand Oaks' redevelopment specialist, Paul Farr, declined to comment on the report Monday, saying he had not yet read the 50-page document. But city officials have argued in the past that, by sprucing up the boulevard, the redevelopment agency will raise property values throughout Thousand Oaks--and thus boost the county's overall tax revenue.

Seeking to placate irate naysayers, Farr met with county officials Monday afternoon to explore how the city might fulfill its redevelopment goals without harming the county or special districts.

For example, city leaders have already won some support from the Conejo Valley Unified School District by promising to use redevelopment funds for an auditorium at Thousand Oaks High and a stadium at Westlake High. They have also floated the idea of passing some boulevard tax receipts on to the community college district.

To appease the county, Thousand Oaks may consider raising the 20% pass-through figure, Farr said. The City Council may also mull financial aid for the flood-control district.

"Until the door slams shut and we say no, there's always room for some kind of an agreement," said Councilwoman Judy Lazar after meeting with county officials Monday.

If the county and special districts continue to oppose the redevelopment agency expansion, they could block the city's plans through legal action, said Daniel J. Murphy, assistant county counsel.

Thousand Oaks must obtain the county's written consent before amending its redevelopment program. Thus, if the City Council goes ahead with the expansion over the county's objections, the city could be sued for breach of contract, Murphy said. "But I'm not anticipating the city will do that," he said.

Redevelopment has been an issue of contention in Thousand Oaks all year, as council members Lazar, Alex Fiore and Frank Schillo have squared off against Mayor Elois Zeanah and Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski.

Fiore, Lazar and Schillo want to prolong a 14-year-old downtown improvement project by nearly doubling the amount of money the redevelopment agency is entitled to absorb from property taxes. The agency will reach its current ceiling of $265 in 2009 and then, by law, would have to disband.

The three also want to issue $120 million worth of bonds, to be paid off over three decades with property-tax dollars. That move would not raise taxes, but it would increase the city's indebtedness.

At tonight's meeting, the City Council is expected to set an Oct. 26 public hearing on the redevelopment agency expansion.

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