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Legislators pass bills that would revive anti-blight program

Chris Levister

A legislative compromise that would expand cities’ and counties’ ability to divert property taxes for local development projects may be too late for bankrupt San Bernardino but there is new hope for the state’s 60-year old redevelopment agency program intended to combat blight.

Four bills made it to the final sprint of the state legislative session, which ended August 31. The four bills would revamp the funding mechanism that allows cities and counties to divert property tax revenues from local agencies if an area is designated for development. Unlike the redevelopment law, however, none of the property tax diversions could come from the taxes that fund schools, a crucial difference from how redevelopment agencies were financed. Voters approved a proposition requiring minimum funding for education in 1988, which required the state to make up the difference for some of the money reallocated from schools to redevelopment agencies. That cut into the state general fund and was a major reason Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature pushed to end the program.

SB1156, by Senate Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would create new entities called Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities. Although similar to redevelopment agencies, they would allow counties and other agencies to withhold their property tax contributions if they don't support the development project. The previous model of redevelopment often pitted cities and counties against each other because it allowed cities to capture counties’ tax money.

The three other bills modify a little-used development tool known as infrastructure financing districts, which, like the former redevelopment agencies, use property tax revenue increases to fund projects. The bills would reduce the voter approval requirements for establishing a project area and issuing new bonds. Existing law requires cities and counties to get two-thirds of voters to approve a new project area before they can divert property taxes to fund it and take on debt. Brown and the Legislature threw hundreds of agencies out of business last year, saying that the property tax money flowing to their operations would be better spent to help close the state's budget deficit. The agencies fought the decree in court and lost in the state Supreme Court. The court traced the growth of redevelopment agencies in California back to Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that slashed property taxes and limited governments' ability to raise new revenues. "Proposition 13 created a kind of shell game among local government agencies for property tax funds,'" Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, wrote, quoting a planning guide.

"'The only way to obtain more funds was to take them from another agency. Redevelopment proved to be one of the most powerful mechanisms for gaining an advantage in the shell game.'" When Brown pulled the plug in February, $5 billion was being sent annually to 400 redevelopment agencies throughout California.

Since then, the Legislature has considered several proposals to mitigate the fallout as cities and counties struggle to wind down the agencies and fight to maintain control over tax dollars. So-called "successor agencies" -- usually city governments -- are now shifting assets into other public coffers, as local oversight boards and state officials keep an eye on their decisions. However, squabbles have broken out in several communities over who should administer the funds or who should sit on the oversight boards.

Some cities used a greater share of the money for administrative costs, paid for police, fire or other city employees, and some loaned the state money to their redevelopment agencies at above-market interest rates.

The loss of redevelopment funds cost struggling San Bernardino $30 million annually and put the spotlight on how redevelopment money was used. San Bernardino was using about $6 million of those funds to back fill its general fund.

"It was never intended to be a source of permanent revenue for cities," said Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton.

In San Bernardino, where small businesses and empty storefronts dot the downtown, redevelopment funds paid the salaries of the city manager, code enforcement officers, human resources staff, the city clerk and the city attorney. They also paid for the operation of the city's public access television, its 5,000-seat minor league baseball stadium, and a renovated historic theater.

“Morris defended the city’s use of the funds for salaries and renovation projects saying the projects stimulated economic growth. He said, without that money, things only got worse. 
"One might say it was the nail on the coffin in terms of our unbalanced budget of losing redevelopment funds.

Redevelopment agencies were created in California in the 1940s as a way to provide more affordable housing and reverse urban blight. To encourage projects, the state dedicated a funding stream for the agencies and attached few restrictions to the money.

"Cities depended on redevelopment to make additional dollars in property and sales taxes down the road, and they were spending down their reserves in the meantime," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities. 

Because there were no hard rules on how cities could spend redevelopment money — except that it had to somehow address or eradicate urban blight and 20 percent of it had to focus on affordable housing — cities interpreted the program liberally, said Marianne O' Malley, an analyst at the Legislative Analyst's Office.

UCR Franklin Fellow Gets Rousing Welcome in Washington

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Only tenured Black business professor in the UC system saw a sabbatical rescinded

In July when University of California Riverside professor, Dr. Waymond Rodgers stepped into the U.S. State Department’s Washington offices marking the long awaited start of his Franklin Fellowship, there were cheers, applause, high-fives and hugs. For Rodgers, the moment was the high mark of an emotional ride that began more than two years ago when he won the coveted honor.

The welcome was in sharp contrast to the cold shoulder send off he received from UCR in June, months after reaching an accord in a contentious disciplinary scuffle with the university. Rodgers, an accounting professor at the UCR School of Business Administration, is the only tenured African-American business professor in the UC system and according to the State Department website the acclaimed scholar is the first Franklin Fellow from a California school. The State Department sponsors the fellowship, which encourages work between academia, business and government.

It was Rodgers' world class research at UCR and his international reputation on matters of corporate social responsibility, and ethical decision making principles that caught the eye of the U.S. State Department which awarded him the prestigious Franklin Fellowship in August, 2010.

In the spring of 2011 without explanation UCR abruptly revoked Rodgers’ approved sabbatical prohibiting him from taking the fellowship which holds national and international benefits for the recipient and sponsoring organization. Nine months later University of California lawyers launched hearings on charges that Rodgers was inadequate in the classroom (based largely on student evaluations) and performed unauthorized work outside the university. The allegations put Rodgers’ 20-year often tumultuous career at UCR on hold and threatened to derail his fellowship. Things changed rapidly after the case touched off a firestorm in the region’s African American community. The Riverside Clergy Association called the charges against Rodgers’, who won a discrimination lawsuit against the university in 1998, “retaliatory” and “racially-mot ivated”. The group formed a united front in support of Rodgers, intent on sending a strong message to the University of California system and all systems that injustice is intolerable. In mid December, 2011, the university dropped its investigation of Rodgers and restored his rescinded sabbatical, allowing him to take the Franklin Fellowship. Rodgers was at the center of a tenure and compensation battle when he came to UCR in 1992. A year later he sued the UC System for race discrimination in federal court. The UCR School of Business Administration has seen its share of conflict. In August 2011 David W. Stewart abruptly stepped down as dean of the school, at least in part because of infighting within the faculty. State Department officials watched the fray from the sidelines, calling UCR’s action’s “surprising” and “unprecedented” at the Franklin Fellowship Program. August, 2010, State Department Senior Advisor for Fellows, Joanne M. Martin, Franklin Fellows Program wrote: "Dr. Rodgers' leadership and expertise are essential to getting an important initiative off the ground. We look forward to him joining Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's team."

The university maintained its move allowing Rodgers a sabbatical had nothing to do with government or public pressure. Citing personnel confidentiality, Rodgers and UCR officials declined to discuss the case.

Clergy members said that while their group doesn’t specifically seek out causes to rally behind, they took up Dr. Rodgers’ case because it was a blatant example of injustice that couldn’t be ignored. Rodgers, a certified public accountant has written five textbooks including his new book Ethical Beginnings: Preferences, Rules, and Principles Influencing Decision Making. He has published numerous papers in scholarly journals, lectured extensively worldwide and is known for his cutting- edge research in ethics, trust issues, intellectual capital, and knowledge management.

“This is a great loss for UCR the entire UC system and the Riverside community,” said Silvia Martin- James chairperson of the Dr. Barnett and Eleanor Jean Grier Concerned Citizens of UCR. “In this period of global uncertainty, the need for ethics in society is such an important factor. The rare opportunity to partner with the State Department on such issues of vital importance to the Uni ted States has been squandered,” said Martin-James.

“Someone once said by ‘perseverance the snail reached the Ark’,” said Riverside Clergy Association president Rev. Paul Munford, recalling Rodger’s obstructed road to Washington.

“This case raises serious questions about UCR’s commitment to justice and equal opportunity,” said UCR Librarian Ruth Jackson. “We’ve not only missed a high profile opportunity to walk the talk on diversity, but it sends the wrong message to prospective corporate and academic partners and undermines our ability to attract research grants and monies for other noteworthy faculty and students,” said Jackson Uncustomary to UCR’s policy of publically announcing distinguished faculty, staff and student achievements, the university to date has made no announcement of the Franklin Fellowship awarded to Dr. Rodgers.

Ironically in July the UCR School of Business Administration issued a media release announcing the hiring of five faculty members who will start this fall. (None of whom are African American). “We are thrilled to welcome a high caliber group of faculty members to the UCR business school family,” said Yunzeng Wang, interim dean of the business school. “These five individuals come with impressive backgrounds and bring great promise. I am excited about the impact that their teaching and research contributions will undoubtedly make.”

Governor Signs Negrete McLeod Bill to Improve Immunization Registry

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Legislation Allows Inclusion of Tuberculosis Screening Results

Sacramento, CA (September 7, 2012) – Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Senate Bill 659 by Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino). The bill will allow the electronic State Immunization Registry to include the results of Tuberculosis screenings. The Immunization Registry is an important communication tool between schools, healthcare providers, and public health officials. It allows schools to ensure that students have received the required immunizations without the need to see the original hardcopy or “yellow card,” which can often be incomplete or lost.

“By allowing these results to be included in the state registry, parents will have an easier time demonstrating compliance with the requirements of local school districts,” said Senator Negrete McLeod.

SB 659 is the fifth bill by Senator Negrete McLeod to be signed by the Governor this year. Ten more bills by Senator Negrete McLeod remain on the Governor’s desk awaiting a signature or veto.


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Same day voter registration to start in 2016

Chris Levister

With the national spotlight on the confusion and chaos surrounding voter ID laws trained on states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Florida (Since 2010, 10 states passed voter ID laws), California has been mostly in the shadows on the heated debate despite its large undocumented immigrant population. But mum’s the word doesn’t mean head in the sand. As voter suppression laws spread across the country, voting rights advocates can take heart: the biggest state in the nation is on the cusp of implementing a major voter protection initiative. Election Day Registration (EDR), which allows citizens to register up to and on Election Day, passed the California State Senate in August by a party-line vote of 23-13. AB 1436 had passed the State Assembly in May 47-26.

The bill would let eligible voters register and vote at a county elections office on Election Day and during the two weeks leading up to it. Those late registrants would complete a conditional registration form and cast a provisional ballot. Their votes would be counted if elections officials determine their registration to be valid during the 30-day canvas period that follows every election. AB 1436 also increases the fine for voter fraud to $50,000, one of the highest penalties in the country.

Under current law, Californians cannot register to vote in the final two weeks before an election, just as many Americans are beginning to tune in. EDR will eliminate that deadline, ensuring that no citizen is disenfranchised because he or she wasn’t registered beforehand. "The really heartbreaking fact of the matter is that a lot of the excitement kicks in about two weeks before Election Day. But by then it's too late, and a lot of people are left sitting on the sidelines," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "If we can engage people when they're excited, we have an opportunity to create a lifelong voter."

AB 1436 authored, by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles would not take effect until Jan. 1 of the year after a database called Vote-Cal, now being developed, becomes operational. Such a database, required by the federal government of every state, would incorporate the voter rolls of all 58 counties in the state and be linked with data from other government agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and Social Security Administration. Ten states allow for same-day voter registration, and Feuer says all but one of those states had a higher voter-participation rate than California in the November 2010 elections. By using the database, he said elections officials would be able to "determine instantaneously if a voter is registered elsewhere" and whether a voter has cast a ballot in another county. "Right now, the counties operate in a vacuum," said Alexander, whose nonprofit has not taken a position on AB 1436.

The statewide database would address concerns of some critics that same-day registration could enable some voters to move about the state on Election Day, casting ballots in multiple counties. The Secretary of State's Office, which ended the original contract to develop the database, is now seeking bids from other vendors. The database potentially could be operational in 2015. If the current bill became law, same-day registration in California would be in effect for the 2016 presidential election.

This won’t just benefit slackers. Historically-disenfranchised citizens like minorities and poorer Americans, will particularly benefit from EDR. On average, studies have found that EDR boosts voter turnout by seven percentage points. Common Cause’s Phillip Ung told ThinkProgress he “expects voter turnout to increase by the hundreds of thousands” solely as a result of EDR. Antoinnae Comeaux of the University of California Student Association said that same-day registration would be a boon to college students, who often fail to register in time at their new residences.

"Thousands of college students miss the deadline as they constantly move throughout the year for academic or financial reasons," she said. The current deadline to register to vote is 15 days before an election.

California New Car Sales Paint A Rosy Picture

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Higher gas prices fueling sea-change in buying habits

Black Voice News Staff Report

There’s no time like the present to buy a car, according to the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealer Association. California new car sales are putting a smile on the gloomy Inland Empire economy. New vehicle registrations increased 17.7 percent during the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same time a year earlier, California’s new car market also outperformed registrations in the rest of the country, which only increased about 13 percent, according to the association.

New vehicle registrations are expected to hit almost 1.5 million in the state. Association chairman John McCallan, who operates dealerships in Riverside and San Diego, said the sales results for the quarter “bode well” for the rest of the year. McCallan says if you are in the market for a car, there may not be a better time to go get one. Of course, do lots of homework first: Figure out what make and model are best for you, then read up on how to get through that whole showroom ordeal. But apparently plenty of folks agree that it's a good time to buy a car, because Americans bought 20 percent more of them last month than in August of last year. Rising demand helped push total nationwide car sales to over 14 million last month. "That's basically going back to the good old days," said Phil Reed of Edmunds.com., an online resource for automotive information. He said that about 12 years ago, annual car sales in the United States was 16 million; car sales in 2012 are on track to reach 15 million.

What is causing this boost in car sales? Soaring gas price are fueling what may be a "sea change" in Americans' car-buying habits, according J.D. Powers and Edmunds. The price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas tops $4 in most parts of the country, up 30 cents last month alone. At the same time, new cars sales jumped 18 percent from April 2010.

Many people think car sales are rising despite the higher gas prices, but Reed says, "The reality is that car sales are actually rising because of higher gas prices - because all of these automakers, and the Detroit (Big) Three are a big part of this -- they are putting out more fuel-efficient cars, and those are the big sellers right now. "If you went to the (just-concluded) New York Auto Show, you saw all of these fuel efficient cars -- among them, the Chevy Cruise, which is a General Motors car, is ... definitely selling big ... and General Motors saw its sales, of all the automakers, go up the most, by 27 percent in April."

Other buying factors include incentives such as zero money down and zero-percent financing for up to five, sometimes six years. Such incentives can save several thousands of dollars over the years. Reed said that a buyer of a 2012 Ford Fusion, which costs $22,300, will have a monthly car payment of about $360 for 60 months, if the buyer has zero-percent financing. Without, they would pay $427 with a 6.9 percent interest rate, a difference of $3,000 over five years.

If a buyer wants to take advantage of incentives, he should first apply for independent financing. After applying, the buyer will know what kind of interest rate they'll qualify for. Armed with that information, the negotiation process at the dealership will be easier.

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BVN National News Wire