Valley News -

By Tony Ault
Staff Writer 

San Jacinto River levee and corridor expansion project faces time limit


Last updated 3/16/2018 at 10:53am

The 10-year effort of San Jacinto City Council and $8 million to fund the $42 million San Jacinto River Levee and Corridor Expansion Project has reached a critical moment in time that will determine if the project will go forward or be shelved for years to come.

The update on the major city project was made with city engineers, the legal team of Best, Best & Krieger, Riverside County Flood Control representatives, a group of concerned major landowners and City Manager Rob Johnson at the meeting.

The council learned that nearly $20 million held for the project by Riverside County Flood Control District and Water Conservation District for the project, less expenses, may be lost unless the city can come up with enough security to float a bond issue to pay the remainder of the planned first phase of the project totaling another $5 million by June 30, the end of the fiscal year 2017-2018.

The city does not have the $5 million to spend on the project from the general fund, city officials said. The $5 million is needed to procure the remainder of the right of way needed before construction can start on the levee along the San Jacinto River from the eastern city limits to Sanderson Avenue.

A Power Point presentation described the benefits of the building the San Jacinto Levee Project, noting it would ensure the public health and safety to more than 300 families living in homes in the floodplain and protect the Ramona Expressway, Sanderson Avenue and State Street. Economically, it would recover more than 1,900 acres of land in the city limits that could be used for residential or commercial development. It will also address the sensitive endangered species habitat – four in all – and improve the city’s water quality and trails.

The major flood and levee break in the early 1980s that flooded much of downtown San Jacinto showed the need for levee improvements and reconstruction before a predicted 100-year flood could hit. The storms of 2005 pushed the current levee to almost overflowing as well, according to the RCFCD. Without the levee improvements, a 100-year flood would be devastating to the city and the adjoining city of Hemet.

Johnson reported that the city has been in contact with the landowners along the corridor who are willing to sell the right of way, but they must be assured they will be paid for the land as soon as a bond issue is approved. Negotiations with the landowners are underway, Johnson said, and agreements may be coming before the deadline.

Best, Best & Krieger representative Seth Merewitz showed the city four funding alternatives. First, a general fund or city loan from the reserves is not available. A bond issue from the Public Facilities Investment Corp. or form the Riverside County Infrastructure fund both secured by the general fund is still not feasible, and the unknown timing of new development funds do not provide upfront funding.

Since none of those sources are feasible to meet the deadline, the city continues its negotiations with about a dozen landowners who own most of the land along the right of way, about 209 acres, and public agencies that own 39 acres of the right of way. The city is looking to gain the approval of the landowners to set up a Communities Funding District that would tax the needed land and the other surrounding land, approximately 1,600 acres, for the amount needed to cover the remaining cost of phase one of the levee project. The landowners could pay into the CFD to raise enough money to secure a bond issue.

Once approved, with the promise of the landowners to participate in the CFD, a bond could be issued, and the landowners would receive payment for the land totaling approximately $5.2 million. The landowners, once they sell the land in the recovered flood plain and also no longer have to pay for high-priced flood insurance, would be relieved of their CFD taxes with the new owners paying the remaining taxes with their purchases.

The county appraisal of the land in the needed 325 acres in 2016 was set at $20,000 per acre; the land in the 2018 Trails Specific Plan, 185 acres, is set at $19,500 per acre for 2018. In 2017, 4.9 commercial acres were sold in the Akre/Driscoll sale for $122,000 an acre.

Needed to move forward to meet the June goal, the first delivery method would be to procure land dedication and fee credit or removal from the CFD. The second delivery method would be for the city and landowners to approve a financing district to fund the land purchase, secure purchase options agreements, approve the financing district, confirm sufficient land value, issue bonds and use the bond proceed to purchase the land.

The final determination if the city would get the bond funding would be what the land is appraised at by the bondholder’s appraiser. The appraisal would determine if the land by its maturity would glean about four times the original value assuring the payback and interest charge.

The CFD assumptions would look at the pending appraisals per acre special tax assuming $20,000 per acre and assuming the 1,355 benefiting acres at $281 per acre per year.

The next steps to get the project moving will be to hold review landowner meetings held in February and completed landowner questionnaires and to continue to engage benefiting area property owners. They must gain financing mechanism support by March 15, develop right of way funding mechanisms in March, implement these funding mechanisms and meet the commitments from RCFC, WCD and city to confirm the phase 1 funding commitment. Then construction could begin in June 2020.

Currently the cost for the entire levee corridor and expansion project, both Phase 1 and Phase 2, is approximately $37 million.

Mayor Crystal Ruiz at the meeting in an emotional plea said the construction of the levee is not a matter of money but of the countless lives that could be lost in a 100-year flood without the levee project.

“I don’t like coming in and taking someone’s land. I don’t want to ask someone for land to help us with a project,” Ruiz said. “But the reality is when you take a look at the flood plain, and you look at the pictures (shown in the Power Point) from just a few years ago how many lives could have been lost in a 100-year flood.

“And if there is a 12-foot wall of water coming at you, I’m telling you, this is about lives, not the almighty dollar. It’s about how many lives are at risk with this project sitting on a shelf. We just can’t afford to let it sit,” Ruiz said.

She appealed to the landowners to help with the project and for the city, landowners, and county flood control representatives to partner with the goal of saving lives in a major flood.

The council will meet again March 20 to determine if they are able to continue participation and funding for the project.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at [email protected]


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