Gridley to form RDA

The city of Gridley declared itself blighted at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting and announced its intention to form a redevelopment agency, hoping that the tax benefits of such a move would attract more jobs to the town.

Gridley City Administrator Jack Slota asked the board to appoint two of its members as county representatives in the matter, and the board responded by appointing Chairman Curt Josiassen, who represents the Gridley area, and Oroville Supervisor Bob Beeler to meet with Gridley’s Redevelopment Committee.

Slota brought with him consultant John Huffman, executive vice president of Urban Futures Inc., a private firm that has been working with Gridley to come up with a redevelopment plan. Huffman touted the benefits of redevelopment, which he said would gather $56 million over 45 years to be spent on roads, sewers, neighborhood improvement projects and the like. The hope, he said, was that businesses would be more likely to relocate to Gridley—and thus provide jobs to the area—if the city had more services to offer.

Redevelopment agencies are nothing new to Butte County. Chico has two project areas and Oroville has one and is pursuing the formation of another. Paradise Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi has said Paradise may designate a redevelopment zone as well.

The benefit of forming a redevelopment agency is that, under state law, the area designated for redevelopment becomes a kind of tax shelter from the state, enabling a community to keep tax revenues above a certain established baseline and use them for projects to improve the blighted area. As the area improves, new businesses bring in sales tax and other revenue, adding money to the redevelopment fund. Property taxes aren’t allowed to go up any more than they normally would. In order to qualify, the area must be lacking in essential services and have no other means to build itself up.

In a later interview, Slota explained why Gridley needs the extra help. “We have many businesses that come through here looking to relocate, and there’s almost no services there. We don’t have what they need to set up shop.”

Gridley has long struggled to find an economic engine that could lower its high unemployment rate. One of the projects it has pursued is an industrial park anchored by a controversial ethanol plant. Residents who have fought against the plant said they hadn’t made up their minds about the redevelopment agency yet but feared that it was a backdoor way of funding the plant’s construction. The proposed plant site is within the project area, on land that is set to be annexed from the county.

Gridley doesn’t need the county’s help to form a redevelopment agency, but since the project area partially falls outside of city limits, both entities could potentially share the benefits of redeveloping the area.

Huffman told the board that Gridley and the county needed to work together to find new sources of revenue, citing the budget report given by county CAO Paul McIntosh that the state was looking to cut about $6 million from state-funded county programs. But some board members rolled their eyes when Huffman evoked (and misquoted) Rodney King, saying, “If we could all just get along…”

Chico Supervisor Jane Dolan got in the last word on the subject, chiding Slota and Huffman for trying to get the board to make a decision about the merits of a Gridley redevelopment agency before the city held a June 17 public meeting on the subject.

"We should be careful to analyze this," she said. "[We shouldn’t] do something in 10 days that will affect two municipalities for 30 years. If we rush to judgment, we will regret it."