A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown late last week will allow Merced County officials to sell property on the former Castle Air Force Base without a public auction, a process they said was time-consuming, costly and discouraged business growth.
“It allows us to market the property without going out to bid,” said Merced County District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis. “It allows us to make a commitment to sell a piece of property. Not only is it going to make the process easier, but it will make businesses look at Castle for relocation.”
Davis, along with District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh, voiced their support for the bill at a Senate hearing in May. The bill was written by Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and gained the support of Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced. The bill was signed by Brown on Friday.
Officials said the public auction process was cumbersome, bureaucratic and provided no assurance to prospective buyers that they would get the site they were interested in. After spending a considerable amount of time and money on a proposal the company could be outbid by other firms.
It was the public auction process that discouraged a Texas-based company supporting bio-science research from relocating to Castle last year. After negotiations with county officials the company decided not to bid for the property, according to Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development.
“That was really disheartening. From a staff perspective there was a great deal of time and effort put in,” Hendrickson said. “The process was so cumbersome that it discouraged them from trying to move forward.”
Hendrickson said the elimination of redevelopment agencies in 2011 took away the county’s ability to sell Castle’s property in a traditional private sector transaction.
The bill restores the county’s ability to lease or sell Castle’s land to private interests without a “drawn-out” public auction, he said.
Other companies have shown interest in buying property at Castle but were waiting on the outcome of the bill, Hendrickson said.
“The private sector expects things to be much more timely than the process was allowing,” he noted. “This enables us to have much more productive and positive conversations.”
Walsh said the concern with the legislation was that Castle property sales would no longer be open to the public, but he said every transaction will require approval from county supervisors. Each one will require four out of five supervisors to vote in favor of a sale, Walsh said.
The bill plays into the goals for Castle, officials said, which is the full privatization of the former military installation.
“It’s part of the strategy that would work best at Castle, which is having people acquire the property like an industrial park.” Walsh said.