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Given the history of City of Manteca real estate deals, Breitenbucher is right to keep questioning
PERSPECTIVE
qualex front
The Qualex building in the Manteca Industrial Park.

 

Manteca is about to pay a second time for a piece of property purchased in 2004 for $2.6 million.

It is a point that Councilman Dave Breitenbucher is not about to sweep under the rug.

The property in question is 8.01 acres fronting South Main Street between Funstein Flooring and Extra Space Storage.

The land has been appraised for $1.5 million. That’s the price the city will pay in order to secure the property a second time for use as a homeless navigation center and a potential affordable housing project.

The first time around they used redevelopment agency money believing the land was ideal for a South County municipal court complex and justice center with possibly a new Manteca Police station next door.

The project died when the county pulled out and the city got the brilliant idea they could buy the vacant Qualex building about a block away as a new police station given all it would need would be a remodel.

They plunked down $3.6 million in RDA funds to buy the Qualex property thinking that when they were through with the remodel they would have a modern 55,000-square-foot police station for $2 million less than if they had built it on raw land.

The city managed to spend more than $1 million in basic earthquake retrofitting and on consultants to draft plans before they pulled the plug.

Up until last year the current council was pushing to buy the Qualex building a second time for $1.2 million for use as a homeless navigation center. They dropped that idea like a hot potato when they found out it could cost as much as $9.1 million to make the structure meet code and standards needed to house people as opposed to processing photographic film.

If “buying property a second time” throws you, there is a simple explanation as to what that means although the city is not thrilled that the narrative is repeated.

The now defunct redevelopment agency was created by cutting into the property taxes paid by homeowners and commercial ventures in a large swath of the city that were placed in the RDA district that was created to fund projects to fight blight.

Breitenbucher is among the homeowners in Manteca still on the hook for the next 20 years or so for paying off RDA bonds used to buy both Qualex and the South Main Street land among other endeavors.

It is eating up tax dollars that would have gone to the city, school district, county and other local agencies to provide services. It is money that taxpayers will see nothing in return for except two incredibly hideous real estate deals.

If and when the borderline dilapidated Qualex structure is sold and if it goes for $1.2 million, the city’s share of the sale will be several hundred thousand dollars. Deduct that from the $4.6 million previous city councils acting as the redevelopment agency board dumped into the property and the City of Manteca managed to lose $4.4 million.

The South Main Street site won’t be as big of a catastrophe from the perspective of a real estate deal that burned taxpayers.

Should Manteca buy it again for $1.5 million and set aside its share of sale proceeds to reduce the actual cost to repurchase it to about $1.2 million, it will only be a loss of $1.4 million based on the original purchase price.

The city, which ran the RDA, will argue it was never city money. It is money, though, that the city took away from taxpayers to fund a separate free-standing government agency they controlled.

This is not about splitting hairs. This is about money as well as one of the city’s biggest problems — failing to follow through on projects that they start.

As a retired firefighter Breitenbucher is well aware of another brilliant Manteca real estate deal. The city bought the former medical offices on Union Road north of Louise Avenue using growth fees collected from new growth. The city thought they could save money by converting it into a fire station instead of building a new station. Fortunately Manteca CAPS, which is now Valley CAPS, bought the building for almost what the city paid for it after it became apparent converting it into a fire station would create a money pit.

At this point, Mayor Ben Cantu could justifiably get on his soapbox and point out these three examples illustrate what happens when the city tries to do things on the cheap and fails to follow through. Cantu’s read on the city’s history is fairly accurate in that respect.

But then again, so is Breitenbucher take on how the city hasn’t been exactly outstanding stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

Cantu during Tuesday’s meeting pushed back on Breitenbucher when he continued to advocate for a homeless center near the water tower on Wetmore Street where the city already owned land arguing it was the more fiscally conservative alternative. The council has already committed to working to secure the South Main Street location.

Cantu would not have been out of line using the Qualex fiasco and the half-baked idea about converting medical offices into a fire station as why in the long run Manteca would be better off starting from scratch when it comes to a homeless navigation center.

The mayor, who stopped short of chastising Breitenbucher, should be happy that his council colleague is not about to stop hammering away to make sure tax dollars are spent as wisely and as effectively as possible.

Breitenbucher is not beating a dead horse as much as he is reminding his colleagues what is at stake — millions of tax dollars — and the fact the council needs to be good stewards of the money the public entrusts them with to provide community services and amenities.

At this juncture both Breitenbucher and Cantu are right for different reasons. Breitenbucher is right to keep challenging the decision to remind people of the financial stakes. Cantu is right to stress a need for the city to follow through instead of abandoning the South Main Street site at some point down the road after investing more tax dollars into it.

Now it is up to the folks at 1001 West Center Street to successfully work toward — and implement — a solution that will work while keeping costs down to address Breitenbucher’s concern and one that is effective and put in place in a timely manner to satisfy Cantu.

Breitenbucher wants to see the homeless issue addressed more robustly but in a manner that doesn’t senselessly burns through money.

Cantu wants the same thing but his push is to make sure the city follows through in a timely manner.

And if you think about it both points is exactly what has ailed the City of Manteca for years.

 

 

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com