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Weatherford: RDA a big plus
Has no problem being blamed for Spreckels Park, BLD
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Mayor Willie Weatherford stands with one of the biggest redevelopment agency success stories in Manteca behind him - Spreckels Park. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

 Editor's note: This is a part of a series of stories on how mayor and council hopefuls would address various municipal issues

Willie Weatherford pointed toward Target.

The mayor noted it is the result of a string of investments by the redevelopment agency that made it possible for a private-partnership to clear away the four abandoned 15-story sugar silos that were located 12 years ago where the Target checkouts are today.

“Most people are pretty happy with what RDA has helped bring to Manteca,” Weatherford said. “With a small investment with a private sector firm that took a big risk Manteca got paid back quickly and is still earning money.”

Weatherford is referring to the initial $1 million investment to build Commerce Drive that brought Home Depot. It also includes the $8 million loan for streets, sewer and water lines throughout Spreckels Park that was paid back ahead of schedule and with interest. That $8 million loan was considered pivotal to securing employers and other retail. It ultimately leveraged more than $300 million in private sector investment at Spreckels Park.

The Manteca Redevelopment Agency is a major issue in the Nov. 2 election where Weatherford is being challenged for the mayor’s post by former mayor Carlon Perry, retired city senior planner Ben Cantu, and council member Debby Moorhead.

Critics contend it is nothing less than corporate welfare. Proponents say it is what transferred Manteca from a bedroom community into one that has generated a significantly larger amount of sales and property taxes than would have occurred without RDA and helped Manteca weather the current recession better than a number of neighboring cities.

Regardless of where a candidate stands on the RDA, one thing is clear. While the $26.3 million general fund impacts Manteca day-to-day with everything from police and fire service to streets and parks it is the redevelopment agency that has the biggest chunk of change. Altogether the Manteca RDA has $201.4 million projected in its fund balance as of June 30, 2011. That compares to $124.5 million for the city including enterprise funds such as sewer garbage, and water plus growth fees and other restricted funds. It also includes the $26.3 million general fund.

The mayor and council serve as the commissions of the redevelopment agency board.

Weatherford has no problem with critics that tie him into the city being able to secure projects such as Big League Dreams, Spreckels Park, and Stadium Retail Center. The two shopping centers were made possible through RDA investment in infrastructure that RDA funds picked up the tab for building the Big League Dreams sports complex.

At the same time, he has no problem with being “blamed” for the sales tax sharing deals that expire after a set number of years that helped bring Bass Pro Shops and Costco to Manteca. Weatherford pointed out that Manteca wouldn’t have gotten a Bass Pro Shops store noting its impact on existing local consumer dollars was minimal at best. He said that means Manteca is giving up 45 percent of “what it never would have gotten” for 35 years with a maximum cap of $38.5 million. Costco is a 10-year split of sales tax money that was going to Costco stores in Tracy and Modesto.

Weatherford said he first learned of the effectiveness of RDA to fund and build local economies when he was servcie as city manager/police chief in Galt.

Galt invested $150,000 in RDA money to construct a road that allowed Air Products to invest $11 million to build a plant in the south Sacramento County city.

“It created jobs and generated enough property tax that the city was paid back within three years,” Weatherford said, adding Galt continues to collect property tax years after the initial investment of RDA funds was covered.

Weatherford said schools and special districts are made whole under stat law governing how RDA agencies collect property taxes.

The bottom line, as far as Weatherford is concerned, is the existence of an RDA allows a city like Manteca to keep 64 cents of every property tax dollar collected as opposed to 16 cents on the dollar without an RDA. The bulk of the money the city collects through the RDA would have gone to the state.

“It doesn’t increase the amount of property taxes anyone pays,” Weatherford said.

He also believes expanding the RDA by creating a new project area will eventually help the city to direct money into street and park upgrades as well as encourage more commercial and employment center investment in Manteca.