Group of 11 citizens face a few months of intense work
GILROY – A group of five downtown property owners, a Realtor, a nonprofit developer and four other citizens will help guide the formation of a new redevelopment plan for downtown Gilroy.

City Council voted unanimously Monday to appoint all 11 citizens who applied for positions on the Redevelopment Plan Citizens Advisory Committee. The group will work with a redevelopment consultant hired in February to create two crucial documents that, if approved, would breathe life into the city’s long-dormant Redevelopment Agency.

“They’ll be doing some pretty intense work for three or four months,” said City Manager Jay Baksa.

Although the city has had an RDA on the books for years, it’s been inactive because of the lack of those documents. An attempt to create a plan in 1989 was rejected by voters by a 2-1 margin.

However, council voted 5-2 last October to explore the cost and benefits of establishing a district, and agreed unanimously in February to hire Walnut Creek’s McGill Martin Self Inc. as the city’s redevelopment consultant.

The citizens’ task force will work with the consultant to hammer out the area covered by redevelopment and specific projects to pursue within it through two documents: a preliminary redevelopment plan and a map of the proposed project area. The city will spend an estimated $170,000 to $230,000 to create the plan.

David Peoples, president of the city’s Downtown Association and a member of the newly created task force, believes that opposition to the prospect of a redevelopment agency here has quieted over past years.

“I don’t think there’s any significant opposition – there’s considerable favor for it,” he said Tuesday. “There’s a greater understanding of what an RDA is and does. It’s changed and become a little more property-owner friendly over the years.”

The task force may also have some input on financial plans, Baksa said. RDAs work by freezing the amount of property taxes that flow from a certain area to the city, county and state, based on the current assessed value of properties within that area. As improvements are made and the assessed value the properties starts to rise, the revenue is reinvested through the district into additional improvements. Gaining that momentum can take years, although agencies can usually borrow against future revenues at their inception.

The improvements can take the form of everything from earthquake retrofitting and sidewalk repairs to incentives for new businesses.

Redevelopment supporters see the RDA as a way to fund downtown sidewalk improvements and other projects the city can’t afford otherwise. Opponents have argued the agencies are prone to corruption and dislike their potential to use eminent domain.

Besides Peoples, other members appointed Monday include:

• Steve Ashford – Ashford’s family owns Ashford’s Heirlooms on Monterey Road. Ashford said he wants to see improvements downtown, but admitted he “wasn’t crazy” about the city’s first redevelopment plans over a decade ago because there wasn’t enough control over where revenues went.

“I’ve heard some good things and bad things about this one,” he said. “Once the consultant comes back with findings, I’ll make up my mind then.”

• Joan Buchanan – owner of the Miracle Miles building on Monterey Road. Buchanan said she’s interested in funding new improvements downtown, possibly including parking structures.

“I’ll be looking to see if (redevelopment) is a viable idea for Gilroy,” she said. “It’s worked in many towns.”

• Leslie Carmichael – a five-year Gilroy resident and former marketing operations manager for 3Com in Santa Clara.

“Much like a new product, we’ll need to create a long-term plan for the area and work as a group to formulate goals of accomplishing our task,” she wrote in her application.

• Ron Erskine – a major stockholder in the Coast Range Brewery on Monterey Road. Erskine said he’s wanted to build a brew pub downtown, but has run into difficulties with parking issues. He’s looking to tap into the feelings and ideas of other businesses on the less-dense south side of Monterey Road.

• Joe Giacalone – former owner of Giacalone Electrical and Design who owns three properties in the downtown area. Giacalone said he wants to clean up Monterey Street and surrounding back alley and “generate a streetscape we can afford.”

• Mary Iserman – a senior project manager for nonprofit housing developer South County Housing.

• Rick Mello – a former candidate for mayor and City Council who said he was a co-founder of the anti-RDA ordinance. Mello said he wants to improve Gilroy and bring “a more conservative view of government to the board.”

• Chris Ordaz – a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, lifelong Gilroy resident and member of the city’s Personnel Commission.

• James Suner – serves on the Hecker Pass Specific Plan Committee and the Building Board of Appeals. Suner said Gilroy could borrow ideas from the rebuilding of downtown Santa Cruz after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

“Gilroy could use several of those strategies on our downtown,” he wrote.

• Catherine Caserza-Light – a two-year Gilroy resident who sits on the board of the Gavilan College Educational Foundation.

The task force meets Tuesday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the craft room at the Wheeler Community Center. Meetings are also scheduled for May 21, June 4 and June 18. The city hopes to iron out a plan by the end of the year.

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