Nice, but not necessary
When you cut off your nose to spite your face, what do you have?
That's the only explanation I could come up with for the failure of three Eureka City Council members last week to second a motion to accept a $3 million gift ($2 million to purchase, $1 million to clean up) by a fourth council member and her husband, Cherie and Rob Arkley. (See In the News, page 6.)
The citizens of Eureka should be asking -- demanding -- an explanation.
The 30-acre balloon tract has been more or less vacant for 30 years. It has soil contamination and is generally an eyesore. Sure, it can sit there for another 10 or 20 years unimproved, but why not clean it up, develop 10-12 acres into a light industrial park (tenants are waiting), 15 acres into a waterfront park and two-to-five acres for parking?
Doesn't that sound like a better idea?
When I spoke with Jack McKellar (one of the three councilmembers who could have, but chose not to second the motion), he said he wanted to know all costs up front.
That would be nice, but it really is not necessary.
The proposal by City Manager Harvey Rose (yes, he's still city manager -- at least this week) was to open escrow, prepare a sale agreement with some closing date long in the future allowing for enough time to complete two studies. One study is necessary to update the biological survey to determine the amount of wetlands in the 30-acre parcel. The second, to work with the seller, Union Pacific, to determine how best to complete the remedial action plan for toxic cleanup. (It has been poorly reported, but both phase I and II of the soils analyses have been completed and so has the first draft of the remedial action plan.)
Let's talk cost. The estimated cost to update the biological survey is $10,000-$12,000 -- not very much money in a deal this big and certainly an amount the city could agree to pay in order to accept this generous offer. The council could have also directed Rose to require Union Pacific to pay to finish the remedial action plan and to solicit bids for cleanup.
Then what? Let's assume the biological survey showed 30 acres of wetlands (not likely). The land is not usable, the City Council decides to forget it and the deal is dead.
Or, let's assume the wetlands are minimal but the cleanup bids are a great deal higher than the $1 million offered by the Arkleys for that purpose. The City Council could then go back to Union Pacific and renegotiate --they could always walk away from the deal.
Real estate is bought and sold with conditions. Wal-Mart wanted to make sure it could build a store on the property from a zoning and land-use point of view. (It couldn't, and the voters sent them packing.) The city could have --have -- simply proceeded with the proper conditions in place regarding wetlands and cleanup, which was what Rose was recommending.
There is an unfair element about the valuation of the property. When houses are bought and sold, a key factor is location (location, location). In commercial transactions, land use is paramount. In other words, the use determines the value to a large extent. When Wal-Mart wanted the parcel the minimum bid was $3.5 million "as is," but the mega-retailer reportedly bid nearly twice that, anticipating very big future sales.
Why would Union Pacific now accept so much less from the city? Because if the value is listed at say $5.5 million and the city pays only $2 million, Union Pacific gets a sweet $3.5 million tax write-off. It's not fair -- many of our laws are not fair -- but a private developer cannot compete with the city in this case.
This deal, negotiated at the direction of the council just a few months ago, is a good one, one that the council should graciously accept.
Shame on the three council members -- McKellar, Jim Gupton and Maxine Hunter Meeks --either not doing their homework or not having their minds open because the proposal was negotiated and presented by the embattled city manager.
Eureka residents should call their council members to express their opinions. They all have individual answering machines listed under the government section of the phone book under city of Eureka.
And one footnote: Councilmember Connie Miller said at one point during the testy meeting last week, "The whole city is watching."
Yes, we are. We deserve fair, open and honest representation and thoughtful decisions. Not politics disguised as caution.
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