20 Mar 19
OROVILLE — The changing face of Oroville was in question Tuesday evening, as a proposed downtown business district was brought forward for public comment, and a potential trade of city land for services dominated the council’s time.
Foremost, a lengthy discussion between councilors waged over an item on the consent calendar that had been pulled for further discussion by Councilor Art Hatley.
The item concerned a potential contract with Duke Sherwood, an Oroville businessman, who offered to swap his excavation services for a plot of land owned by the city that abuts his property on 5th Avenue.
The land Sherwood offered to excavate is at the City Corporation Yard on Mitchell Avenue, and is currently slated for a potential temporary housing project in partnership with the North Valley Community Foundation for those that have been displaced by the Camp Fire.
Initially, it was thought that the NVCF would cover all costs associated with this project, but excavation has fallen on the city’s dime, and is projected to cost as much as $100,000 to make it level for the trailers that need to be placed there.
The council had previously authorized city staff to move forward on a contract with Sherwood, but some councilors asked to halt the process, saying it was akin to giving a gift of public lands. Additionally, the plot at 5th Avenue currently has 13 “EDUs” — equivalent dwelling units — that may or may not be transferable to another site, a potential loss in revenue for the city.
“Anytime you tell me any property in today’s age isn’t worth anything, well that’s wrong,” Hatley said. “I just want to be sure we’re not giving away a million dollars worth of property for $138,000.”
Councilors Linda Draper and Janet Goodson also expressed concern over the proposed contract, calling for an appraisal to be done before any deal is made.
“I cannot make an intelligent, well-vetted decision without the fundamentals,” Goodson said. “Why are the city staff so dead set against obtaining an appraisal?”
Part of the concerns on going forward with an appraisal were that NVCF would move on to another site should the council drag out the process of making ready the proposed site at the Corporation Yard. A commercial appraisal could take anywhere from 90-120 days, reported Assistant City Administrator Bill LaGrone.
Mayor Chuck Reynolds confirmed with LaGrone that the property in question is currently costing the city money, and that excavating the land that Sherwood is offering his services for would bring in approximately $750,000 over the next two years. The work to level the yard would cost approximately $110,000, according to city documents, and Sherwood’s excavation company is likely the only local business that has the equipment to do it, said Vice Mayor Scott Thomson.
After much discussion, Councilor Eric Smith moved to approve the item as it was on the agenda, with Thomson seconding. It passed with a vote of 4-3, with councilors Draper, Goodson and Hatley voting against.
Later in the evening, a public hearing on the proposed Oroville Business Improvement District drew several commentators. A simple majority of owners in the proposed district must approve of the plan before it can proceed, according to City Attorney Scott Huber.
Andy Solita, who owns Gold City Mercantile, started by telling the councilors: “Shame on you that it is necessary for me to be here tonight to defend my rights.”
Solita decried the involuntary membership required of business owners in the proposed district, calling it “taxation without representation” and saying that there was no added benefit to anyone who didn’t already have the opportunity to join pre-existing business associations in Oroville.
Bud Tracy, with Tracy Realty Co., was in favor of the project, and said that the reason organizations like the Oroville Downtown Business Association have not worked in the past was exactly because membership was voluntary.
“Membership goes up and down, up and down,” he said. With one voice for 124 businesses, the city and business owners can work together more efficiently, Tracy said.
An additional voice against the proposition came from the owner of J&J Auto & Exhaust, who wrote into the council of their opposition.
Elsewhere on the agenda, councilors heard a presentation on the city’s new OpenGov website for finances, from Oroville’s Elijah House and their Back 2 Work program, and a presentation from the city’s Business Assistance and Housing Department.
The council also approved an extension of the contract with interim city clerk Joanna Gutierrez and a free admission day at the Pioneer Museum on May 8.
On the regular agenda, the council approved the process to start a bid process for new and repaired fencing on Table Mountain above the Feather River Fish Hatchery, and authorized $15,000 in supplemental funds for additional Code Enforcement activities.
LaGrone said the city was planning on “becoming more aggressive” with code enforcement, and that will naturally lead to necessary public hearings and potential litigation, at a cost to the city. The supplemental funds would, ostensibly, cover these activities.
Councilor Goodson asked if the money could be used to help clean blighted properties and illegal trash dumps, and LaGrone confirmed it could be.
In closed session, the mayor announced direction was given but no action taken.
The next Oroville City Council meeting will be held April 2, at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers. [related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]