Our View: Modesto’s vision for courthouse is off the mark

04/12/2014 3:46 PM

04/12/2014 3:47 PM

The city of Modesto is forging ahead with its new courthouse proposal in typical fashion – wearing blinders, making miscalculations, dealing in the dark and refusing to consider all the costs.

Tuesday night, the city is set to vote on a package of considerations all lumped into one that will set in motion a plan to turn the block bounded by H, G, Ninth and 10th streets into a much needed new Stanislaus County courthouse. The city – which already owns roughly half the property – would not share details with The Bee or the public until the items were put on the agenda. Now that we’ve seen them, we believe explanations are in order.

For instance, virtually all of the $5 million authorized by the state will go to the owners of property still in private hands. For some, it will provide a profit, though the return will vary hugely property to property. Further, there are enormous variances in how much the city will pay for each square foot.

The city will pay G&K Enterprises $2.5 million for its 28,000-square-foot building at 900 H St. In 2004, G&K paid $2.25 million and will see a 10 percent appreciation. But G&K also bought 711 10th St. in 2004 for $265,000; the city values that 7,000-square-foot property at $625,000 – an increase of 135 percent. It works out to $89 a square foot for both properties, though the larger property is an office building with tenants and the smaller is unoccupied.

Meanwhile, Gary and Myrna Gervasoni are being offered $492,000 for their 10,500 square feet – or $46 a square foot. Virtually next door, a vacant 3,500-square-foot building will fetch $325,000 – or $92 a square foot.

The appraised value of each of the six privately held properties was not disclosed, nor were details of negotiations. The city says no owner of a private parcel is receiving less than the appraised value; but the city did not say if any were receiving more.

We do know, though, that the city is receiving far less for land it owns in the same block. The city owns a total of 53,500 square feet, but will net only $330,000 – or $6.17 a square foot – after buying an environmental insurance policy. The city has a 14,000-square-foot property being used for fleet maintenance. There is no mention of the cost of relocating the facility (which has already been approved).

Since all of the buildings will be demolished, we wonder what makes one property worth more than another. And what makes the city property worth so much less?

As for the miscalculations, the city’s math on its original documents did not add up. When reporter J.N. Sbranti questioned the city, it admitted its calculations were off by $100,000 and promised to fix the mistake.

Some city officials would have residents believe The Bee is pushing an agenda. The site-selection committee offered two finalists for the courthouse. The rejected site was the 1300 block of I Street – The Bee’s offices. But the McClatchy Co., The Bee’s parent company, sold the property in 2011 and has no financial interest.

The city’s preferred site was controversial. That’s immaterial now. What matters is that when the city deals in the dark, comes up with widely varying prices for contiguous properties, essentially values its own interest (and that of taxpayers) at a fraction of what it is willing to pay others and includes sloppy math, it does not engender confidence. Instead of lumping these issues together, the city should discuss each in detail and at length. That is the only way residents will have any confidence the city is working in taxpayers’ best interests.

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