September 22, 2015

RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Split decision for four cities

Brown vetoes bill restoring fees for Jurupa Valley, Eastvale, Wildomar and Menifee. But some debts will be forgiven.

BY JEFF HORSEMAN / The Press-Enterprise

It’s the same story with a twist for four relatively new Riverside County cities that were hit hard by a state budget maneuver four years ago.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday, Sept. 22, announced his veto of SB 25, a Senate bill that would have restored vehicle license fee revenue to Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Wildomar and Menifee. The governor vetoed similar bills in 2012 and 2014.

Part of SB 107 relieves the county of having to pay $24 million for Cal Fire services. As a result, the county would forgive debt owed by the cities for public safety services.

“The legislation calls for an agreement to be approved by the (county Board of Supervisors) and the four cities, and then sent to the state,” said county spokesman Ray Smith.

State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, authored SB 25 and was part of a committee that sponsored SB 107.

While he’s happy the governor signed SB 107, Roth said he was disappointed with the other bill’s veto and would try again to restore the vehicle license fees to the four cities.

“(SB 107 is) a good first step,” Roth said. “It does not replace the need to secure permanent regular ... funding to put the four cities on par with every other city in the state of California.”

County Supervisor John Tavaglione, who represents Eastvale and Jurupa Valley, had similar thoughts.

“While this does not resolve the longstanding unfair treatment of the four new cities, I am happy it provides this one-time assistance,” he said. “However, these cities need a long-term fix to ensure they are treated fairly, and treated the same as all other California cities.”

Faced with tough financial times stemming from the Great Recession, state lawmakers in 2011 diverted the fees to pay for law enforcement grants. Eastvale, Wildomar, Jurupa Valley and Menifee all incorporated in the past 10 years, and as newer cities, they relied on vehicle license fees to a greater degree that more established municipalities.

The fees’ loss wreaked havoc with the four cities’ budgets -- they lost a combined $19 million -- resulting in cuts to law enforcement among other services. Leaders in Jurupa Valley, which officially incorporated two days after the Legislature voted to divert the fees, warned they would have to dissolve the city unless they got relief.

Some Inland officials viewed the fees’ diversion as political retaliation for Inland Republican lawmakers’ unwillingness to go along with tax hikes proposed by Brown, a Democrat. Then-county Supervisor Jeff Stone, who is now a state senator, was so outraged by the move, he proposed splitting California in two.

Roth, who was elected in 2012 and represents Jurupa Valley and Eastvale, made restoring the fees a priority. The four cities also hired a Sacramento lobbyist to make their case and the cities’ struggles were a key topic during Brown’s visit with county officials in Riverside in 2014.

Without opposition, the Legislature in 2012, 2014 and 2015 passed Roth’s bills to restore the fees. Brown vetoed all those bills, saying they would cause long-term harm to the state’s general fund.

The vetoes angered county supervisors, who saw Brown’s opposition as proof of Sacramento’s disdain for the Inland region.

“I don’t think this was even a serious consideration for him, quite frankly,” Tavaglione said in 2014. “They basically thumbed their nose at us.”

This year, the governor proposed the alternative of easing the county’s Cal Fire debt to aid the four cities.

That idea was lumped into a larger bill, SB 107, dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 dissolution of redevelopment agencies. SB 107 helps cities settle the affairs of their now-defunct redevelopment programs, while a companion Assembly bill signed by Brown tries to replace redevelopment by targeting distressed areas for new infrastructure and affordable housing.

Critics said redevelopment, which relied on property tax revenue in designated districts, was rife with abuses and favored politically connected developers. Cities and counties with redevelopment agencies, including Riverside County, defended the program as essential to providing affordable housing, eliminating blight and building infrastructure for disadvantaged communities.

The courts upheld redevelopment’s dissolution in 2011.

Stone, R-Temecula, voted against SB 107, saying it would hurt cities in his Senate district and that lawmakers had little time to review the legislation. Roth disagreed, saying the bill was the subject of several lengthy public hearings and that its details had been public for months.


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