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November 15, 2013

Deal to buy courthouse land in Modesto may be done soon

The controverial Stanislaus County courthouse land deal may be done within a couple months

The Stanislaus County courthouse land purchase may be a done deal within a month or two.

“Hopefully, sometime by the end of this year or early next year, we’ll be able to announce we’ve acquired the properties,” Judge Jack Jacobson told members of the Stanislaus County Bar Association at a luncheon Friday.

Jacobson has been heading a committee involved in getting a new $277million courthouse built in downtown Modesto.

Exactly where that building should go is the issue.

Jacobson said he agrees with the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts’ selection of the block at 10th and H streets. Modesto city officials also back that site, which is partly owned by the city and its former redevelopment agency.

A group of prominent Modesto community members, however, is lobbying for the courthouse to be built instead at 13th and I streets. That block, where The Modesto Bee leases office space, is the state’s second choice.

Jacobson told the legal crowd that his top priority is to secure a building site before anything jeopardizes state funding for the project.

“The real concern we have is any further delay,” said Jacobson, noting how courthouse funding initially was approved three years ago. He said state budget cuts pushed back the project and forced proponents to clear extra steps to secure funds. “We thought we would be a lot farther along by now.”

Jacobson also defended the closed-door negotiations being done by city officials to purchase and prepare that 10th Street block for the state.

Despite never having taken any public vote to approve the deal, city officials are negotiating to purchase all the land on that block, move all the utility lines and resell the land to the state.

City officials have said they hope Modesto will break even on the transaction, but so far they have refused to release any details about the costs the city will incur.

“Those are private negotiations with private landowners,” Jacobson said about the city’s talks with the block’s landowners. “Those negotiations are not subject to the Brown Act (California’s open meetings law).”

Jacobson said that once city officials “get the deal done,” then the issue will be brought to a City Council meeting so it can be voted on in public.

So far, the City Council has nothing about the courthouse scheduled for a vote.

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