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*****Media Advisory*****
Press Release
Bus Barn Negotiations Crash
6/12/07

City officials this week broke off negotiations with the Liberty Union High School District for district property they wanted for the new downtown Civic Center, and will instead move ahead with a reconfigured plan.

“While we appreciate all of the time and efforts put forth by your board and our respective staffs, we must inform you that we have unanimously agreed to discontinue our efforts to acquire District property, believing it to be a sound business decision and in our mutual best interests,” the City Council stated in a letter delivered to the Liberty Board on Tuesday.

Recent talks involved the district transportation yard (known as the bus barn), as well as tennis courts and swimming pool at Liberty High School.

City Councilman Chris Becnel said the decision came after reviewing a proposal received from the district last week. The proposal, which Becnel said would cost the city about $10 million, called for the city to relocate the bus barn, tennis courts and swimming pool, including design and construction work and remediation of any environmental problems at the current site.

In exchange, the city would receive about 1.86 acres of land currently occupied by district facilities, plus rights to use the new tennis and pool facilities when they were not being used by the district.

“When you look at it, the fair-market value of the land is maybe $1 million,” Becnel said Tuesday. “We would end up with $1 million in real property, plus secondary-use rights of property we wouldn’t own. Secondary-use rights are not worth $9 million.”

LUHSD Superintendent Dan Smith said he was “disappointed” at the outcome, and that the district had hoped talks would continue. “We really wanted to work this out.”

Negotiations had been strained since the city publicly rolled out its Civic Center plan in April. Two weeks later, the district board read a letter during a City Council meeting expressing its concern that, among other things, the city had announced its plan before a final agreement on the district’s property had been reached.

In the five weeks since the letter was read, there has been one meeting between the two agencies. An architect hired by the city on May 8 to oversee the Civic Center plan said an agreement on the bus barn was needed by within 30 days, or additional costs would be incurred should the deal fall through and plans need to be changed.

Smith said the district board put “quite a lot of effort” into meeting the city’s time line. He stopped short of saying that the process was rushed, saying only that talks had been broken off when the district was “open to continuing” negotiations.

Becnel said that talks had gone for years before the plan was rolled out and the architect hired, and when recent discussions headed in “the wrong direction,” the council decided the matter had run its course.

Becnel said that deals nearly consummated previously between the city and the district would have transferred the property to the city for between $6.5 and $7 million and required the district to repay the city for about $3 million in costs for building the new pool. The current proposal, he said, eliminated the repayment clause, increasing the bottom-line cost to the city.

Smith attributed the difference to the absence in the earlier deal of the transfer of about a half acre occupied by the current pool facility, and the escalation of construction costs since the previous negotiations ended.

The earlier pool deal was rejected as too expensive by the previous City council, Becnel said.

Former city councilwoman and mayor Barbara Guise, who has considered the bus barn a thorn in the downtown’s side for many years, decried the moves made by both agencies.

“I’m not happy,” Guise said Wednesday. “I think the school district dragged this on for years, and every time (an agreement) got close, they’d ask for more money.”

As for the city, “They’re going to try and cram the city hall in there (without district property) instead of what they should be doing, which is move it down the street across from the post office.”

Landeros said that a trio of alternative Civic Center plans had been penciled out, and would be brought before the public for comment in the coming weeks. Each uses only property already owned by the city.

The potential new Civic Center footprints include the same sized buildings as in the plan adopted by the City Council in April, relocated to other areas in the area around City Park. Other than the loss of the potential tennis and swimming amenities, the only thing missing from the new layouts is the planned through-street connection of Maple and Third streets. That land would now be used for the new buildings or, in one case, an extension of City Park.

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