SANTA CLARA--The city's anxious wait appears to be over, and the news Tuesday was a stunner even if it wasn't a surprise: The state wants City Hall to cough up $279 million in old redevelopment assets.

"We half-expected this to happen," city spokesman Dan Beerman said. "We want to get our hands around this and not say anything premature. A lot of people are going to have a lot of questions about what comes next."

In a statement released Tuesday, state Controller John Chiang said Santa Clara had committed "inappropriate property and cash transfers" from its former redevelopment agency. Chiang added that the assets should now be used to pay off the agency's debts and fund local programs throughout Santa Clara County.

"More than two years ago," Chiang wrote, "at a time when severe budget shortfalls forced difficult choices between competing programs, lawmakers -- with sign-off from the (state) Supreme Court -- put schools, public safety, healthcare and other local services ahead of redevelopment."

Chiangs was referring to Gov. Jerry Brown's successful drive to shut down the agencies, which for decades had set aside land for economic enterprises and kept billions of dollars in property-tax increases that would have gone to county governments and local school districts.

Before any financing freeze went into effect, cities all over the state, including San Jose, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Santa Clara, began transferring redevelopment assets to municipal projects or departments and away from the clutches of the state.

Chiang's office has since been chasing down the transfers city by city, sometimes agreeing the moves were legitimate.

The $279 million is a staggering sum for the mid-size city. Chiang ordered the assets sent to a special board set up to decide how and where the properties and money should be used or spent. The board's next meeting is Sept. 23.

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.