Attention, all you would-be land barons. The Successor Agency to Fresno’s Redevelopment Agency has got just the deal for you – nearly three acres located a short jaunt from Downtown for a price that most likely won’t top a measly buck.
That’s right – $1.
Is there a catch?
Of course. The site apparently is Fresno’s version of Love Canal.
The Successor Agency has been busy for several years auctioning off properties leftover from the days when City Hall had an active Redevelopment Agency. Gov. Jerry Brown killed the state’s RDAs back in 2011-2012 during the Great Recession.
The Successor Agency’s Oversight Board meets periodically to review the latest batch of real estate transactions. The selling process is bit involved. In essence, it’s a live auction.
The Oversight Board is scheduled to meet next Wednesday (Dec. 6) at City Hall to mull over the fate of a handful of properties.
One of the parcels is 2.73 acres at 2345 S. Fruit Ave. in Southwest Fresno.
“The property was previously appraised in September 2014 for $0,” says the staff report.
The meeting agenda says the minimum bid for 2345 S. Fruit is $1.
I dropped by Successor Agency headquarters on Monday to pose one question to Executive Director Marlene Murphey: “What gives?”
“It’s the covenants,” Murphey said.
You see, the soil at 2345 S. Fruit contains a lot of nasty stuff. It’s not clear to me from the staff report and old RDA documents exactly what that nasty stuff is or how it got there. This part of town (near the intersection of Fruit and Church Avenue) was lively a century ago. There was plenty of time to contaminate the land before environmental regulators came on the scene.
The RDA bought the land in 1972.
“That’s what we did – eliminate blight,” Murphey told me.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) took control of things before anything got built. The result in 1994 was a “Statement of Covenants Restricting Specified Uses of Property” for 2345 S. Fruit.
Murphey on Monday nicely summed up the scale of those development restrictions on 2345 S. Fruit.
“I suppose you could turn it into a parking lot,” she said.
In other words, the covenants prohibit the property owner from doing anything significant to the ground. That means no one is going to lay a foundation for a building. I got the impression from Murphey that the owner of 2345 S. Fruit couldn’t even plant a respectable flagpole.
A May 2014 letter from the local DTSC office to the Successor Agency hints at just how toxic things are at 2345 S. Fruit.
The department’s Thomas E. Berg wrote: “DTSC understands that you have had trouble maintaining the fence around the Site and will now install a welded fence to reduce theft and vandalism. We also understand that you are currently controlling vegetative growth on the cap by disking. The Covenant requires that the integrity of the cap is not compromised and that necessary repairs are made.
“The defined purpose for cap maintenance is to sustain the cap’s integrity as a barrier preventing water infiltration into contaminated soils, the movement of contaminated soil in surface runoff, and wind-blown transport of contaminated soils. DTSC does not believe that disking is an appropriate weed control measure because it does not maintain the cap’s integrity for the stated purpose.”
Sounds like a buyer of 2345 S. Fruit would be acquiring nothing but a huge earthen lid that holds at bay all sorts of environmental monsters. This lid happens to be of considerable interest to the government. And should this lid fail to do its job and those environmental monsters escape, the owner of 2345 S. Fruit would be liable for any havoc.
Now, I might be exaggerating the environmental challenges that come with 2345 S. Fruit. The Oversight Board on Dec. 6 also will auction off eight acres at 2385 S. Fruit, located due south of 2345 S. Fruit.
The appraised value of 2385 S. Fruit is $122,000. The staff report says someone last year wanted to buy both parcels on S. Fruit for a total of $178,000. However, the deal fell through.
On the other hand, perhaps 2345 S. Fruit is indicative of the serious restoration problems facing City Hall in this part of Fresno.
The Darling rendering plant is just a stone’s throw to the west of 2345 S. Fruit. The Darling operation is slated at some point to move to a modern new plant to be built on land currently owned by the sewer farm. What lies beneath the current Darling site after a half-century of “rendering”?
And Hyde Park sits on the northern boundary of 2345 S. Fruit. Hyde Park is an honest-to-goodness city park. The site used to be one of Fresno’s dumps. Today, it’s a big hill with grass and no park-like amenities. City Hall is currently showing off its new parks master plan. I’ve skimmed the plan. I didn’t see anything in there about how Hyde Park could be turned into viable green space when there are 2.73 acres of environmental disaster right next door.
Maybe the Successor Agency should pay someone to take 2345 S. Fruit off its hands.