SACRAMENTO -- In a show of strength, more than 100 mayors and city council members from throughout California came together Friday to protest Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to shutter their redevelopment agencies, calling it an illegal money grab and warning that they will sue the state if it is adopted.

Standing together with labor activists and business executives at the Sacramento Convention Center, the city leaders said they would vigorously oppose the governor's redevelopment proposal in the Legislature and, if necessary, in the courts.

"We would hate to have to take the state to court in order to uphold the will of the voters, but we will do it if we are forced to do it," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities.

Brown has proposed that redevelopment programs, which divert tax revenue from schools and other government coffers to pay for economic development projects, should be shut to free up $1.7 billion for basic services, including education and public safety. The proposal is part of his plan to reorganize government and close a $25 billion budget deficit.

But two days after Brown spoke to the city leaders and urged their cooperation, the mayors and council members said Friday that the governor needs to find another way of fixing the state's budget mess.

"It would prevent us from continuing to address the blighted communities, and these are focused on low-income areas," said Riverside City Councilman Andy Melendrez.


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Ridgecrest Vice Mayor Jerry Taylor said his city recently sold $24 million in bonds to pay for new redevelopment and has counted on it to significantly improve the isolated community.

Several city leaders said they generally like Brown, but it was clear that his proposal has struck a nerve, and some took a jab at him, pointing out that Brown had redevelopment funds at his disposal when he was mayor of Oakland. "I don't think it's right to deprive the leaders of Oakland or any city the use of a tool that he (Brown) used in order to create jobs and create housing in Oakland," McKenzie said.

The city leaders, who were already in Sacramento to attend a conference, said Brown's proposal is in conflict with the will of the voters, who in November approved Proposition 22, a ballot measure that sought to prevent the state from taking or borrowing local government funds, including redevelopment money.

McKenzie, who is an attorney, contends that the proposal to shut the state's 398 redevelopment agencies also violates the state constitution, which requires the tax increment money to be paid to redevelopment agencies to repay the public cost of redevelopment.

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor, said later Friday that the state had done a "thorough legal review" of the redevelopment proposal before it was made.

"We are confident that the governor's budget proposal is legally sound," Westrup said. "Redevelopment agencies were created by an act of the Legislature, and they can be eliminated by an act of the Legislature. It's time for all of us, including local government leaders, to set aside narrow perspectives and turf wars and act as Californians first to address the state's budget deficit."