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RDA Successor Oversight Board: Lunches With Wolves

Someone once described democracy as “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” It’s an apt description for what’s going on with Santa Clara County Redevelopment Successor Agency Oversight Boards as they disallow RDA obligations and sit on revenues needed to pay the shuttered agencies’ obligations.

The state law scrapping redevelopment created new county oversight boards to manage the finances of former RDAs. Oversight board members don’t get paid, nor are they reimbursed for expenses, and they can’t serve on more than five oversight boards simultaneously. What they do get, however, is a chance to direct more money to their agencies.

Board makeup includes:

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  • members appointed by the municipality operating the RDA
  • members appointed by the county board of supervisors
  • member appointed by the largest taxation district
  • member appointed by the county board of education
  • member appointed by the California Community Colleges Chancellor

Here it turns into wolves vs. lambs. A majority – five – of those board members are appointed by agencies whose property tax share drops when money is allocated to RDA projects, costs and debt obligations. Put another way, the less money the RDA gets, the more they get.

Because they exert significant power over the finances of county municipalities, it’s fair to ask, who are the people making these decisions for the City of Santa Clara? Sitting on the City’s RDA Oversight Board are: Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, Santa Clara Finance Director Gary Ameling, SCUSD Superintendent Bobbie Plough, Santa Clara Valley Water District Chair Don Gage, West Valley-Mission Community College District Vice Chancellor Ed Maduli, Santa Clara County Tax Collector George Putris (sitting in for County Finance Director Vinod Sharma), and County Treasurer-Controller Division Manager Jai Singh.

While Matthews, Ameling and Plough are familiar to Santa Clarans, the other board members may not be.

County Finance Director Vinod Sharma has worked in the county’s finance department for 12 years. Sharma’s office was responsible for the county’s decision earlier this month to withhold $86.5 million in property taxes from San Jose’s RDA successor agency. Subsequently RDA’s debt was downgraded to “junk,” adding $1.26 million of to San Jose’s annual borrowing costs, said the city’s finance department.

Sharma responded that San Jose was conjuring the specter of default to divert attention from its financial mismanagement. Last week state controller John Chiang ordered the County to pay up.

Sharma’s designee to the Santa Clara RDA Oversight Board, county tax collector George Putris, is a newcomer to the county. Putris formerly served in San Francisco city government under Gavin Newsom, first as Deputy City Attorney and later as a tax administrator.

In Dec. 2010, Putris certified the subdivision map for San Francisco’s Bay View Hunters Project, which included San Francisco’s final proposal to keep the 49ers in that city. At the June 22 Santa Clara RDA oversight board meeting, Putris was the author of the off-agenda motion to deny the $30 million in RDA funds – approved by voters – to the current stadium project.

Appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, Jai Singh is County Controller-Treasurer Division Manager. In Finance Director Sharma‘s letter regarding the June 2012 decisions about RDA tax distributions, Sharma designated Singh as the go-to guy for questions about decisions not to distribute RDA funds in June because of what the County Finance department termed “significant over-apportionments of tax revenues for the first ROPS period.”

Before becoming Vice Chancellor of Central Services at West Valley College, Edralin (Ed) Maduli was with the San Luis Obispo Community College District and served as interim president of Cuesta College. In 2006, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined the Friends of Cuesta College Committee and its treasurer, Maduli, $6,000 for not following proper disclosure rules in its campaign to pass a parcel tax measure.

Santa Clara Valley Water Board Chair Don Gage has a long history in Santa Clara politics. Previously he represented District 1 on the water board, which covers south Santa Clara County. Gage was first elected to public office in 1981, when he joined the Gilroy City Council. He was later elected mayor of Gilroy and in 1987 was elected to the county Board of Supervisors. He’s also served on the VTA Board of Directors.

Predictably, with such a long history in local politics, Gage has changed his opinions on more than one subject; first opposing and then favoring BART to San Jose, as well as a sales tax hike to fund it.

The next meeting of the Santa Clara RDA Successor Agency Oversight Board is July 9 at 2:00 p.m., in the City Council Chambers. It’s open to the public and will be broadcast on cable TV channel 15 and online at santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=43

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