VACAVILLE — City and business officials paint a bleak picture of a very real scenario in which Vacaville is forced by the state to part with nine parking lots in the downtown area, as well as a number of other properties that were owned by the city’s now-defunct redevelopment agency.
It’s a situation that goes back to the state doing away with redevelopment agencies, which cities in California used to help attract new businesses and spur developments.
“We went to the City Council in mid-May to let them know we received a formal letter from the (state) Department of Finance,” said Cyndi Johnston, city director of Housing and Redevelopment. “The state is not allowing us to consider them government properties. They’re saying, ‘You can’t transfer them to the city.’ ”
As a part of the 2011 budget act, the state government sought to eliminate the state’s 400-plus redevelopment agencies. The state Department of Finance’s website says the move was intended, “to protect funding for core public services at the local level.”
But it also created headaches for cities such as Vacaville that rely on the properties previously owned by its redevelopment agency.
The city adopted a number of resolutions to transfer ownership of the various redevelopment properties to government use or other appropriate public jurisdictions. A number of the resolutions were approved by the state Department of Finance, but many were not, meaning the city cannot transfer them to government use and must sell them.
City staff reports say the Department of Finance told the city that parking lots “open to the general public are not considered governmental purpose assets.”
Losing just the nine parking lots, which consist of 361 parking spaces, creates all kinds of headaches for the city.
Without the lots, the city would be left with street parking and eight city-owned lots that total 588 spaces – and 127 of those are only available on weekends, holidays and after 5 p.m. weekdays.
That’s just the start of the problems.
In addition to the parking lots, the city was denied transfer of three undeveloped parcels and a pair of developed parcels, specifically the Harbison Events Center and the Carnegie Library, which is home to the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce.
The city has vowed to fight the state on the property transfers.
“There’s a couple things that we’re doing,” Johnston said. “We are actually preparing a letter requesting reconsideration. We’re asking them to take a look again and sit down with us and go through them and see why we consider them government properties.”
Johnston said the city has limited hope that will work, though.
“A few have been successful, a few have not,” she said. “The second thing, we’re preparing a long-range property management plan. It was mandated as part of the dissolution of redevelopment. We’re taking that to the oversight board in September.”
That long-range plan allows the city to describe how the properties in question are to be used, sold for future development or transferred for government purposes.
After the city oversight board – the City Council serves as the oversight board for the successor agency – the state Department of Finance will look at the plan.
“We’re never done until the state takes a look,” Johnston said.
The effects on the city could be dramatic if it has to part with the nine parking lots.
“It essentially results in a loss of 44 percent of (our) parking spaces,” Johnston said. “So it is very, very significant.”
Because Vacaville’s downtown is particularly active, this could be a serious problem.
“We’ve got a situation where parking has always been a key component of downtown,” Johnston said.
Losing the lots creates a host of problems for the city, she said.
“Making sure we have enough for downtown and for special events,” Johnston said. “That’s kind of the right off the bat.”
The city would have to revisit its core parking standards.
“Our parking requirements are now, if you tear something down and rebuild, you do not have to have on-site parking,” Johnston said. “We’ll have to revise that because there’s not enough parking.”
Long range, the prospects for the city are not great if the parking lots must be sold, she said.
“We would expect our downtown property values go down due to lack of parking,” Johnston said. “We can’t build as much. Sales tax could go down because people want to shop where it’s easy to park. It would have a negative impact on the businesses themselves and on the lives of Vacaville residents.”
There hasn’t been an attempt to quantify the potential losses to businesses and to the city in terms of sales tax revenue from the potential reduced parking situation.
“We haven’t done that piece of it yet,” Johnston said. “We expect it to be part of getting ready for the long-range plan. It’s still pretty fresh.”
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce, which would be directly affected by the forced sale of the redevelopment properties, is concerned for its own home as well as how the situation could affect its members.
“It would be devastating for downtown Vacaville, especially with a new theater coming on line in late November,” said Mark Creffield, president of the Vacaville chamber.
Loss of parking will cause major problems for businesses, Creffield said. For example, the Gold’s Gym parking lot is one of the lots the city stands to lose.
“Who will buy it?” he said. “Losing parking in an already-crowded downtown Vacaville could have a severe effect.”
Then there’s the question of what happens to the parking lots if the city sells them.
“What are people going to do, develop on these parking spaces?” Creffield said. “Turn them into private parking lots?”
Losing the Carnegie Library could leave the chamber in a quandary, too. Creffield said there’s no real plan yet for what the chamber would do if it needed to leave the Carnegie Library.
“In theory, (the city) could be forced to liquidate the building, which would then mean the chamber would have to move out,” he said. “We still have a lease.”
The lease agreement states that the city must give the chamber 10 months’ notice to vacate the property. If the chamber needed to be out by December 2014, the city would have to give notice in February.
“So it’s not really something we’ve given a lot of thought to because we have a lot of time before this move would have to happen,” Creffield said. “But it is on our minds.”
According to that lease, the chamber paid the redevelopment agency, and now the successor agency, which is overseen by the City Council, a dollar a year for rent.
Creffield said the chamber also pays $1,500 per month to the successor agency for a redevelopment loan, plus it pays the property taxes on the Carnegie Library. Additionally, the chamber collects some rental income from businesses that are in the building.
“It would be pretty devastating if the chamber would have to leave,” Creffield said. “I hope we would still remain a downtown fixture. My hope is that we could still find a home somewhere in downtown Vacaville.”
It’s been about 15 years since the chamber moved into the Carnegie Library.
Creffield said he’s had conversations with Johnston and City Manager Laura Kuhn about the redevelopment properties.
“There’s a lot of frustration on the city,” he said. “They feel that the properties should just be rolled into the city.”
Creffield mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit against the state, which is an approach the City Council discussed at its May 14 meeting.
“At some point we have to say enough is enough,” City Councilman Curtis Hunt said at that meeting. “(We should) do all that is being asked of us, but I wouldn’t have a problem with having a lawsuit attached to this. I don’t think we need to soft pedal to the Department of Finance.”
Before any suits are filed, the city must complete the Long Range Management Plan, which is due to the state by Oct. 12.
“Under the Long Range Management Plan, we’ll propose plans for transfer (of the properties) to the city for government use,” Johnston said. “We’re just not confident that the process will allow us to do that. But we’re hopeful.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.