Tenth Street not I Street is the best place to build Modestos new courthouse, Californias top court administrator has decided.
Steven Jahr, the states administrative director of the courts, said he visited Modesto, cruised downtown and walked around both proposed sites this month before determining his staff had made the right decision in picking the block at 10th and H Streets.
I am convinced that this new state facility will serve the residents of Stanislaus County well for many decades to come and that it will represent a fine addition to downtown Modesto, Jahr wrote this week in a letter sent to a number of public officials.
Jahr said he got involved in the location debate in September after community opposition to the 10th Street site emerged.
I was contacted by a representative of proponents of the (site at I and 13th streets) and was provided with a synopsis of their views, said Jahr, whose office is in San Francisco. I have since received and reviewed communications from proponents of each site.
A group calling itself Citizens for I Street led by Marie Gallo, Ray Simon and Frank Damrell launched a campaign to keep the courthouse on I Street, which they contend is the cultural and civic center of Modesto.
The 10th Street site, however, is favored by Modesto city officials, who intend to sell city-owned property on that block to the state for the courthouse.
If it is built as planned, the $277 million facility will be the most expensive public works project in Stanislaus County history.
Jahr runs Californias Administrative Office of the Courts, the judicial agency making most of the decisions about where the courthouse will be built. That agency formed a project advisory group that worked behind closed doors to select which downtown block to build on.
After examining how the AOCs staff and the project advisory group picked the 10th Street location, Jahr determined his agency had properly adhered to its site-selection policies.
Jahr also concluded that the 10th Street site is not controversial, which means purchasing it will not require state Judicial Council approval. He said that while opponents want the I Street site, thats just their preference and not because 10th Street isnt an appropriate spot.
To back up his decision, Jahr cited several reasons 10th Street would be the best place to build, including:
• It is closer to Highway 99 so it would be easier to get to by vehicle.
• It is closer to Modestos Ninth Street transit center.
• It is closer to Modestos police headquarters at 10th and G streets.
• It would continue the development of civic buildings on 10th Street.
• It is consistent with the citys plan for economic expansion along 10th Street, providing concentrated pedestrian activity that can support local businesses along that street.
• The environmental review process has been completed for that site.
• High volumes of traffic would be better accommodated there because it already is bounded by four signalized intersections (while only two corners on the I Street block have signals installed).
I do not take this determination lightly, Jahr said. Community leaders have lined up behind each of the two remaining sites.
Those backing the I Street location said Friday they will continue to fight for it.
I fully expected him to defend his staff, said former Stanislaus County Supervisor Ray Simon, who was not impressed with Jahrs reasoning for why the courthouse would be better on 10th than on I Street. He simply restated the city of Modestos position almost verbatim.
Simon said Jahr did not address many of the issues he and other I Street advocates raised.
We had a long list of questions, and none of them were answered, Simon complained. This is the most tight-lipped decision-making process I have ever seen. No one gives any answers.
Citizens for I Street is not giving up, Simon said. He said his group will continue questioning and lobbying Modestos City Council, which is key to the land deal.
While few details have been revealed and nothing has been publicly approved, city officials have been privately negotiating with 10th Street landowners to buy all the land on that block.
Their plan reportedly is to acquire every parcel, move all the utility lines off the property, close the public alley there and resell the entire block to the state. How much thats expected to cost area taxpayers hasnt been revealed, but city officials have said the best-case scenario is that Modesto breaks even on the deal.
Were going to start talking to the three newly elected council members to try to stop it, Simon said.
Bill Zoslocki, Jenny Kenoyer and Tony Madrigal will join the seven-member council Tuesday. At least four votes will be needed to approve or deny any deal.
The private owners of the rival I Street block, meanwhile, expressed disappointment in Jahrs decision.
The I Street site is a superior location, said Niniv Tamimi, a Modesto developer who owns that block with a group of investors.
That block is where The Modesto Bee leases space. The newspaper sold the property three years ago.
Tamimi said details about what he and his partners are willing to sell the I Street block for have been leaked to those advocating for the 10th Street site.
My costs and deal points have been made public, Tamimi said. But the citys deal points for the 10th Street site are the ones that need to be made public, and theyre being kept secret.
City officials have said those details will not be revealed until the City Council has finished negotiating with 10th Street landowners and it is ready to publicly vote on the deal. When that will be has not been announced.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.