Council Will Reconsider Whether To Declare Key Riverfront Land Surplus

After a break of several months, Redding council members will again discuss whether several key parcels at the Redding riverfront should be declared surplus, paving the way for the land to be sold to a consortium of developers and non-profits. If the properties are declared surplus, the city must first make them available to affordable housing developers and a list of public entities that includes ten local tribes, before they could be sold to the consortium.

This story is part of Scout’s ongoing coverage of proposed riverfront land development – you can find the rest of the series here.

The possible sale of key Redding riverfront parcels that first became public in early September of last year will soon return to the Council for another vote, says City Manager Barry Tippin. 

The parcels under consideration are of key interest to the community because they have been public for generations and involve an important area of Redding’s riverfront, located close to the Sundial Bridge. They include the Redding Rodeo grounds and the Redding Civic Auditorium grounds, both of which are currently leased to local organizations.

On April 19, the city will again consider whether to declare the riverfront properties “surplus” in order to facilitate their sale. The council has not discussed the land sale since November 18, when they voted 3-2 to direct city staff to continue the process of declaring the land surplus while also examining alternative options for how the land could be used or developed.

Their vote also directed staff to investigate other types of public-private partnerships that could be used to improve the properties for the public’s benefit. Tippin said Thursday that no other alternatives for how the land could be utilized or developed have been found by staff, so the Council’s upcoming vote will focus on whether to declare the land surplus.

Minutes from the Redding City Council’s November 23, 2021 meeting indicate the alternatives the council asked to be explored in addition to the process of how the city might declare the land surplus.

To do so, the city must follow California’s Surplus Land Act (SLA) which allows municipalities to “surplus” land that isn’t integral to the city’s operations, after declaring in writing that the land is “no longer necessary” for the city’s use. While the riverfront land does not house essential city functions like a water treatment plant or power grid, community members, and even some council members, have declared publicly that continued ownership of the land at this particular site does seem necessary, because it promotes the community’s vibrancy and well-being. 

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While the council had originally planned to make a decision in December of last year, the vote was delayed while the city reached out to the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for feedback on the surplus process. Tippin said then that new complexities in the state’s surplus law, and penalties for failing to follow it, prompted city staff to take those extra steps to ensure the agency will approve their process. 

The council’s declaration of surplus land would open the door for the city to sell the land to a consortium of developers and non-profits, known as the D&D Group. Last August, that consortium submitted a letter of intent to the city, in hopes of entering into a negotiating agreement for the sale and development of the riverfront parcels. The group includes K2 Development Properties, a Redding-based firm which has developed more than $100 million in local projects, and Populous, a multi-national architecture firm which has designed stadiums and entertainment venues worth $40 billion around the world. Two local non-profits, Turtle Bay Exploration Park and the McConnell Foundation, are also members of the consortium. 

Because updates to California’s SLA are intended to encourage the development of affordable housing, the city must send out a Notice of Availability (NOA) once it declares land surplus. The NOA is sent to a group of public entities and affordable housing developers who may make an offer on the land if they are willing to develop housing on the site with at least 25 percent of the units meeting state affordability requirements. State law then requires the city to negotiate “in good faith” for at least 90 days, giving preference to the entity offering the greatest number of housing units at the deepest level of affordability. If no one responds to the notice or a deal for the land can’t be negotiated within the 90-day time window, the city can sell the land to another buyer. 

Public entities that must be given the opportunity to purchase the land include ten local tribes. Recent communication from HCD to the city indicates the city’s draft NOA document complies with the Surplus Land Act and directs the city as to which tribal governments must be offered an opportunity to purchase the land. The letter also communicates that local tribes have already contacted HCD about the cultural significance of the riverfront parcels.

After Shasta Scout broke the news of the consortium’s offer in September, there was widespread criticism of the city, for what many called a lack of transparency in the process. Discussions of the proposal were initially scheduled to happen in closed session as a real estate negotiation, but the item was moved to open session of the Council after public outcry. The city released the consortium’s 74  page proposal and letter of intent to the public soon after.

While the council is now only considering declaring three parcels surplus, an area that includes about 40 acres of land, the original agenda item discussed by the Council on September 21 included six parcels and around 200 acres.  At that meeting, the Council voted unanimously to table any surplus declaration, pending a series of public workshops that could be used to provide further information about the proposed land sale, address legal concerns and provide more opportunities for public input. 

Since then the city has provided the public with four workshops and multiple surveys. Throughout the process, the majority of community members who have engaged with the city on the proposed land sale have opposed it, although relatively few community members have weighed in. Community concerns about sale of the riverfront parcels have centered around fears that any subsequent development process will not be within the community’s control. While the consortium of nonprofits and developers have sought to reassure the public about their interest in community involvement, many residents have continued to express fears about how the development of the riverfront parcels might harm both the environment and the small-town feel of the community they love. Some who oppose the land sale are open to the idea of redeveloping the riverfront parcels to improve their benefit to the community, if it remains public land. 

Indigenous peoples say their voices should be central to any discussions about the sale or development of the land which has been part of  Wintu people’s lifeways for millenia. Many Wintu people have suggested the land should be returned to them, its original inhabitants and caretakers, instead of being sold to private interests like the consortium. They have testified that they still use the riverfront to gather their traditional basket-weaving materials, teach their children to fish, and maintain their deep cultural and spiritual connection with the land and water. There are also serious concerns about how development might impact ancestral burial sites located along the river. 

Redding originally obtained the approximately 200 acres of riverfront land in the Sundial Bridge area through a series of purchases between 1937 and 1966. Much of the land was acquired after voters narrowly approved a ballot initiative to purchase it with the help of federal funds in order to preserve it for the community’s recreational use.

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Additional information about the potential sale and development of riverfront land is available on the city’s website.

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