The state will demolish the boarded-up buildings on the city block it purchased in December 2014 for a new downtown Modesto courthouse, over concerns about public safety and to reduce its liability.
Demolition could start in two to four weeks and take 21/2 to 3 months. But the state has not yet solved a funding shortfall to build this and other courthouse projects across California.
Still, razing the 31/2-acre block, bounded by H and G streets and Ninth and 10th streets, is good news for Jerry Bubeck, co-owner of Motor Parts Distributors on 10th Street. He said there have been more homeless people and other problems since the tenants moved out and the buildings were boarded up.
“It will get rid of the problem,” he said. “Why not bring it down to the dirt? There is no one who is going to mess around with dirt. Tear those buildings down.”
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There are plenty of signs people have been in the buildings, including cigarette butts, discarded clothing and bedding on floors. Chain-link fence runs along part of the block and along the alley that runs through part of the block. But the alley fencing has been peeled back in several spots, and back doors to some of the buildings are not boarded up. Bubeck said workers are out about once a month making repairs and securing the site, but the work does not last.
Judicial Council of California spokesman Blaine Corren said in an email the council is demolishing the site to address Modesto’s concerns about public safety and to reduce the council’s liability risk. The council is the policymaker for the state court system.
Laurie Smith — the city’s business manager — said she inspected the site Sept. 8 with state court officials and said one top official already was aware of and alarmed by the property’s condition and said he would accelerate the demolition work. She said the inspection came after she had contacted the official, Jim Peterson, to talk about a complaint the city had received about the property.
During the inspection, city and court officials came across a man who appeared to be in distress and was placed on a 72-hour hold to be evaluated, said Sgt. Mike Hammond, who heads up the Police Department’s beat health unit and took part in the inspection. Hammond said the man had overdosed on heroin the previous day, was taken to the hospital, discharged, and then went back to the property.
And on Aug. 22, police arrested two men after detectives saw them stealing copper from the rooftop air conditioner of one of the buildings. The proposed courthouse is near the Police Department and the detectives witnessed the theft from their office window.
Corren said the council decided in 2016 to raze the block in fall 2017 but has agreed to expedite the demolition work as much as possible. He said the council is seeking bids and does not yet have a date for when the work will start but expects it will be in two to four weeks. He said the buildings have sustained minor damage, which he said is not unusual under the circumstances.
Corren said workers will demolish the entire block, including the former city parking lot at the site, and then fence it off.
The Judicial Council plans to build a roughly $267 million courthouse with more than two dozen courtrooms on the block, which will replace the overcrowded, outmoded downtown courthouse.
But the council decided about a year ago to slow work on courthouse projects as it tries to solve a funding shortfall. That means the Modesto project has funding to complete its current phase but cannot proceed beyond that until more funding is secured.
Corren said the project is in its architectural design-preliminary plans phase, which should be completed by May 2018. The next phase would be the working drawings, which will take about a year, and then the final phase: construction. He stressed funding has not been identified for these phases.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316