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  Media Coverage
  Richmond Not the Only City with City Hall Problems
May 21, 2004


El Cerrito officials are tired of their City Hall, a group of portable buildings at San Pablo and Manila avenues. Among its problems: Decay and dry rot, termite and carpenter ant damage and lack of space. It presents an unfavorable image for the city, they say.

But while a conceptual design for a new building has been created, little other progress has been made.

The problem is there's no money available, said City Manager Scott Hanin. The city's general fund faces a $450,000 deficit next fiscal year that needs to be filled either through reducing the city's fund reserve and/or making cuts to services. The financial picture could be much worse if voters fail to extend a utility users tax that is up for a vote this November.

So the city is asking state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, for help.

Mayor Letitia Moore would like the city to have the ability to use redevelopment money to build a new City Hall. But under state law, redevelopment money can't be used for city "administrative buildings," said redevelopment manager Lori Trevino.

Moore has written to Torlakson asking him to amend the law so the redevelopment money can be used.

"It would require a law change to allow that to happen," said City Manager Scott Hanin. "We don't know if there's any chance they would consider it or not. We haven't gotten any response."

The city's redevelopment agency is governed by the City Council and raises money through property taxes to upgrade areas that need it. In El Cerrito's case, that's mainly along San Pablo Avenue.

Between $17 million and $20 million in bonds will likely be available to the redevelopment agency in the late summer, said Lori Trevino.

While the City Council has dedicated $1.2 million to a City Hall project, about $7 to $8 million is needed, Hanin said.

"We don't want a Taj Mahal; we just want a city hall that's livable," Trevino said. "That was the impetus for the request."

In the letter to Torlakson, Moore suggests a "narrowly defined state program that allows the use of redevelopment funds to construct city offices. This program should be limited to those cities that meet specific state goals."

The goals Moore suggests are increasing the amount of affordable units cities are required to build or the amount of redevelopment money allocated toward affordable housing.

"The narrowly defined program could encourage both greater investment in affordable housing and greater investment in long-term community assets," Moore wrote. "An investment in city offices is a long-term investment in the community."

Torlakson has met with city officials regarding the city hall project and is sympathetic, said Robert Oakes, Torlakson's press secretary. However, with the governor's office looking to take away $250 million in redevelopment money from cities across the state, now is not the right time to try to change redevelopment law.

The senator's energy needs to be focused on simply maintaining what cities already have, Oakes said.

"It would be difficult at a time when redevelopment funding is threatened statewide, to expand the use of redevelopment money to benefit one city," Oakes said. Next year, he said, might be a better time.

Hanin said he was not overly optimistic that anything would come of the request.

"They're very busy in Sacramento and I'm not surprised we haven't heard anything at this point," he said.