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Time is Running Out on Options to Purchase Land for HSR Maintenance Facility, Landholders May Keep Money and Land

High Speed Rail

Time is Running Out on Options to Purchase Land for HSR Maintenance Facility, Landholders May Keep Money and Land

Fresno Council of Governments may exercise purchasing options to have land ready if Fresno is selected for the High-Speed Rail’s heavy maintenance facility, or landholders receive taxpayer money and keep the land.

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Local government officials are preparing to do some heavy-duty planning in Fresno’s “reverse triangle” area.

One of the early suggestions: Temporary government ownership of the land that could be home to High-Speed Rail’s heavy maintenance facility.

The Fresno Council of Governments has received a Caltrans’ grant of nearly $300,000 to, in the words of a COG report, “develop a plan that will address potential impacts from the new development and respond to the area’s multi-modal transportation needs. The study will identify strategies to mitigate the impacts from the growing industrial centers, move people and goods efficiently along SR 99 and SR 41 and local and regional roadways in that area, engage stakeholders and develop implementation plans.”

The reverse triangle is south of Downtown. It is bounded by Highway 99 to the east and Highway 41 to the west. The triangle’s southern base, according to the original grant application, is American Avenue. However, COG officials are asking Caltrans to approve a change that would move the southern base to Adams Avenue.

Adams Avenue runs along the northern edge of Fowler. The reverse triangle is getting big, and the hopes for its development are even bigger. The area is home to the Amazon and Ulta Beauty distribution centers. Industrial developers are eyeing other projects there.

COG Policy Board Chairman Amarpreet Dhaliwal (San Joaquin’s mayor pro tem) has taken to calling the area “Prosperity Triangle.” That’s a perfect brand name, although I suspect it’ll drive certain social justice warriors nuts.

Prosperity Triangle also is home to our region’s proposed site for the bullet train’s heavy maintenance facility. To land such a facility would mean hundreds of good-paying jobs plus the golden opportunity to turn Fresno County into the national center for bullet train technology training/advancement.

The key is getting the High-Speed Rail Authority to pick Prosperity Triangle for the heavy maintenance facility rather than competing sites in the Valley. It is the complexity of this lobbying battle that produced an interesting twist to Thursday evening’s COG Policy Board meeting.

The Policy Board is COG’s ultimate authority. It is composed of the mayors (or designees such as a mayor pro tem) of Fresno County’s incorporated cities plus a member of the Board of Supervisors (currently Sal Quintero). Fresno Mayor Lee Brand didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting; Council Member Clint Oliver represented the city.

COG Planning Director Kristine Cai gave the board a brief review of the Caltrans grant. It was at this point that Kerman Mayor Pro Tem Gary Yep raised a question: What do we do about the options to buy the land for the heavy maintenance facility?

By way of context, local officials a few years ago recognized that one of Fresno’s big challenges in the heavy maintenance facility sweepstakes was the lack of a site with a single property owner. We had a spot picked out, but securing it meant negotiating with a handful of landholders. If the bullet train folks thought time was of the essence, they might choose another suitor (Kern County, for example) that already had the necessary acreage locked up.

So, local officials (led by then Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin) went the option route. Local officials, led by COG and the Fresno County Transportation Authority, set aside $25 million to help fund the necessary infrastructure in Prosperity Triangle should that site be picked for the heavy maintenance facility. A half-million dollars – $250,000 a year for two years – was set aside to buy options to purchase 166 acres from property owners at a specific price. The option money would go toward the purchase price should the options be exercised. If the options aren’t exercised within the two years, the options expire and the property owners keep the money.

If that were to occur, local officials would have to negotiate new option deals with the property owners or gamble that the High-Speed Rail Authority would not mind that Fresno has failed to lock up ownership of the land prior to selection of the heavy maintenance facility site.

We are now into our second year of the options. The High-Speed Rail Authority has shown no inclination to name a winner of the heavy maintenance facility sweepstakes in the near future.

“Can we exercise it (the options) ourselves?” Kerman’s Yep asked COG Executive Director Tony Boren on Thursday.

Referring to the 166-acre site, Yep said the idea is to “own it ourselves. Either we resell it or (at least) we have time on our hands.”

But the way things stand now, Yep said, time is running out. He said the vision behind the original option idea could be saved if “we turn lemons to lemonade or chicken shit to chicken salad. We’re sitting in between. We spend a half million dollars with nothing to show for it or we buy it outright using the taxpayers money and hold it.”

Yep said it’s foolish to spend a substantial amount of money “on something we’re not going to have. Why waste our time? But if we’re going to have it, let’s plan for it.”

Boren replied: “It’s probably not a bad idea to have a conversation.” He said that conversation would include the Fresno County Transportation Authority, which oversees Measure C spending.

As to watching $500,000 of Measure C money disappear down the hole of unexercised land options and then asking for more money to buy another round of options, Boren said: “I’m not certain there will be the political will to hang in there.”

I understand Fresno City Hall would be the buyer of record. I do not know if the $25 million of Measure C money set aside for heavy maintenance facility infrastructure can be used to buy the 166 acres prior to the High-Speed Rail Authority’s announcement of the heavy maintenance facility site.

Based on my review of the options, the current total purchase price for the 166 acres is $7.2 million.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Peter Grace

    July 2, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Does anyone yet comprehend this 10-year debacle is a 1st class empty gigantic rabbit hole? Even new leadership with a supposed paradigm shift means that the last ten years are a failure and it is NOW time to accept this fact.

  2. Jon Wallace

    July 19, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Right¿ on when will we get to reality

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