FREMONT -- The long-anticipated Irvington BART station looks like it will either be built well ahead of schedule -- or never come to pass.
In a desperate attempt Monday to preserve the project seen as vital to reviving Fremont's Irvington district, the City Council authorized a $140 million redevelopment bond -- the vast majority of which would go toward constructing and completing the BART station in 2014, the same year that the Warm Springs BART station is scheduled to open.
"I think what we're doing today is the absolute responsible thing to do," Councilwoman Anu Natarajan said.
The city hopes to line up investors and close on the bond this month.
However, state lawmakers are expected to consider urgency legislation that could nullify the bond effort -- and there's also no guarantee investors will buy the redevelopment bond, given the uncertainty surrounding the state's redevelopment program.
To help close the state's $28 billion deficit, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed ending state-subsidized redevelopment, a tool cities use to fight blight, build affordable housing and promote economic development, but which drains property tax revenue from the state and other public agencies.
The governor's proposal potentially will cost Fremont dearly because the city last year negotiated agreements allowing it to issue about $400 million in redevelopment bonds.
The state can't take money that's already been promised to bondholders. So in a furious effort to hold on to the funds before the state acts, Fremont on Monday authorized a bond for the following projects:
Although those projects total about $123 million, the City Council authorized up to $140 million to cover cost overruns and other unexpected expenses.
The city chose only to fund projects that have a reasonable chance of being completed in three years, a requirement for the bond yields to be tax free. That requirement limited the number of projects the city could fund and prevented the city from issuing a larger bond.
Originally, the Irvington BART station wasn't scheduled for work until after the Warm Springs station is done in 2014. But city officials now say that, with BART's help, both stations can be completed and opened in 2014, even though BART hasn't purchased all the land needed for the Irvington station.
"What we're doing at this point is just trying to protect the city's interest "... in moving BART forward," Redevelopment Agency Director Elisa Tierney told the council.
The bond does not include funding for affordable housing or the six-acre vacant lot in Centerville, which could remain vacant much longer if redevelopment is terminated.
The city has an exclusive negotiating agreement with developer Blake Hunt Ventures to build a retail and apartment complex on the property along Fremont Boulevard between Thornton Avenue and Bonde Way.
But there's no binding development contract with Blake Hunt, or assurances that the project could be built within three years, Tierney said.
The City Council, which had planned to OK a redevelopment bond later this year, instead approved it during a special meeting Monday when City Hall was closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The council called the meeting because of rumors in Sacramento that emergency legislation soon would be introduced making Monday the cutoff date for agencies to approve new bonds.
However, the Legislature could choose to backdate the bond prohibition even earlier, which would kill Fremont's bond efforts. Also, it's unclear whether investors will buy the bonds if the future of redevelopment is up in the air.
A redevelopment bond offering failed earlier this month when investors were unwilling to buy the bonds, said John Armstrong, Fremont's redevelopment adviser.
The only risk to the city and investors, Armstrong told the council, was if the state effectively outlawed the offering between the time that the bond was issued and the deal closed.
In that case, neither city nor the investors would be on the hook for the bond, but neither party would recoup the funds spent to issue the bond.