The Desert Sun understands why redevelopment had to go. With the state facing multibillion-dollar deficits, it no longer made sense to divert property taxes for civic projects — even though many of them stimulated the economy and made our cities better places to live.
However, the unwinding of redevelopment has been slow, painful and confusing. The latest debate is over parking lots that were previously owned by redevelopment agencies.
In Palm Springs, the RDA owned five parking lots with a total of 350 spaces. These are not new assets. They have provided free parking for businesses along Palm Canyon Drive for decades.
Also, there are longstanding agreements associated with the parking lots. John Raymond, the city’s director of community and economic development, says the city is obligated to provide parking for the Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church. If the lot at Alejo and Belardo roads were to be sold or used for another purpose, the obligation would remain.
Free parking is essential to any retail area and we believe the city should continue to provide the service. However, the California Department of Finance is making a distinction between lots used by public employees and free parking provided for visitors.
“This isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ dissolution of redevelopment agencies and parking lots because it depends on the purpose of the parking,” spokesman H.D. Palmer told The Desert Sun.
Cities were encouraged by the victory in Santa Barbara over thousands of parking spaces and garages along State Street. The Department of Finance initially rejected the transfer, but the city appealed and sent its elected officials to Sacramento to plead its case.
The Santa Barbara victory may not set a precedent that would be useful to other cities because its downtown parking district predated the creation of its redevelopment agency. That’s not the case for most cities and counties.
In La Quinta, officials are appealing for the transfer of a lot in the Village that has been in use for 20 years. The lot was transferred from the RDA to the city in early 2011, just as the Legislature was debating whether to dissolve redevelopment. That’s the same time the city transferred $41 million in assets from the RDA to the city. It lost that case.
Cities may be forced to fund appraisals of the property, negotiate payments with taxing agencies and create business districts to maintain the parking lots.
It makes us wonder how far back the Department of Finance will go. For instance, would it require Rancho Mirage to strike a similar deal for The River shopping center? Councilman G. Dana Hobart doesn’t think so.
“They seem to be making a distinction between projects with buildings on them and parking lots,” he said. “They’re grandfathered in.”
The Desert Sun believes parking lots that have been in use since long before the future of redevelopment was ever in question should fall in the same category. The state distinctions — whether it’s a parking lot for employees or tourists or whether it makes a difference if a building sits on the land — make little sense.
Parking lots are valuable assets and cities should be allowed to continue to use them without having to leap through the Department of Finance hoops.