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Stretching blight’s definition in Glendale

Redevelopment Agency move will ensure upgrades to library bathroom.

August 12, 2011|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Are bathrooms without handicap grab bars blight? According to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency, they are.

On Tuesday, the agency declared bathrooms at Fire Station 26 and adjoining Casa Verdugo Library blighted in order to use $305,000 in redevelopment money to pay for upgrades at the facilities. The upgrades have been on the city’s capital improvement wish list two years in a row, but budget shortfalls have kept them from being funded. 

City officials said in a report to the City Council Tuesday that there were “no other reasonable means of financing the improvements.” 

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The move shows the extent to which Glendale relies on its Redevelopment Agency, which the state is trying to eliminate. To stay alive, agencies have to agree to share redevelopment funding with the state, which the Glendale agency has done. But stretching the definition of what is considered blight, even if it is outside a redevelopment zone, demonstrates what critics have harped on in the past in arguing for the dissolution of local agencies statewide.

At the same time, city officials point out that public buildings that don’t follow federal disability access laws can get slapped with lawsuits. Fixing the fire station and library is a way to preempt that, said Elena Bolbolian, senior administrative analyst with the Development Services Department.

“It just takes one person not to have access,” she said.

State law limits the Redevelopment Agency’s spending to affordable housing or development projects that reduce blight within two specific areas in Glendale: the Central Glendale Project Area, which includes much of downtown, and the San Fernando Road Corridor Project Area. The agency gets its money from incrementally higher property tax revenues that normally would go to the state. 

Fire Station 26 and the Casa Verdugo branch library are three blocks north of the Central Glendale Project Area. In order to use the tax increment to get both buildings in line with Americans with Disabilities Act, the City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, had to rule that the bathroom projects would eliminate blight. 

Under current law, almost anything can be declared blight, according to a March analysis by the state controller’s office. 

Bolbolian said that using redevelopment money outside a project area is rare in Glendale, having only been done about four times since the agency was established in 1972.

The project approved on Tuesday includes upgrades to the fire station’s restroom and shower facilities to serve male and female employees, as well as adding handicap amenities to a unisex restroom at the library, including motorized doors and a concrete ramp.

The library was at risk of a shutdown during budget talks earlier this year as the city grappled with an $18-million gap, but residents protested, pushing it off the chopping block. 

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