The opinions expressed in the Soapbox are not necessarily the opinions of the ECA. I am speaking my own mind and not stating any collective ECA opinions.
Last Tuesday the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors discussed moving forward with purchasing 7 plus acres where the vacated Sears Building currently stands by the Santa Rosa Mall. I am happy to report at least two of the Supervisors were able to delay the $21 million purchase of this property unless and until more information is processed on the overall costs of well over $1.2 billion has happened. Supervisor Rabbitt and Hopkins expressed their reluctance to “pull the trigger” on buying the Sears site until staff has provided a plan that they can study and discuss on how to finance the biggest dollar commitment the BOS has considered in several decades. This is a huge decision. And a complex set of circumstances needs to be thoroughly vetted and considered prior to moving forward, in my humble opinion.
To see a short view of the presentation staff presented, click on this link:
Now for the editorial part of this newsletter. Remember, this is my opinion only, not an official opinion of the ECA’s.
I hate the idea of moving County admin to Sears.
The County owns 82 acres of land easily accessible off of Steele Lane, Mendocino Avenue, and Bicentennial Way off of Highway 101. Currently, the County Courthouse, Jail, and the Sheriff are all on site and even if the County buys Sears, they will all stay at the current site off of Mendocino Avenue. Yes, the old admin buildings are old and in need of replacement. But they all sit on land the County owns and has control of, right now.
Here are some of the talking points that I have read and heard about supporting moving to the Sears site:
- Close proximity to the bus terminal and SMART train.
- Close proximity to the Federal and State buildings on the corner of E Street and Sonoma Avenues.
- A County move of 1800 workers would revitalize downtown Santa Rosa merchants, bars and restaurants.
- Moving County offices could “free up” land on the current County admin site for building much needed affordable housing that would be closer to Kaiser health care facilities.
All of the other arguments in favor of moving downtown have to do with getting rid of deferred maintenance costs which go away with either site, and with modernization of facilities that would be more energy efficient which also would be true with either site.
Here are some of the arguments against moving County administrations to the Sears site:
- Construction would be more expensive-tougher site to build on-7.8 acres vs 82 acres to access and lay down and stage. Some estimates say the per square foot construction costs would be 20% higher at Sears site. Or more.
- Advocates for the move are “hoping” that County workers will stay in the downtown area after work and go to restaurants, merchants, and bars. I do not think that will happen because it is pricey to go out in downtown SR (anybody been to CA Bianca lately?) and County workers are not highly compensated unless they are administration heads. County workers will simply go home after work. Downtown SR will not be “revitalized” with 1800 workers working at the old Sears site during the day.
- Parking will be a nightmare. Advocates for the move are banking on County workers taking public transportation to and from work. “Not Gonna Happen” in my opinion. Most workers with families, have one or two stops to make at their lunch time, and/or after work to pick up kids, take kids to practice, go shopping for groceries, or other errands. Public transportation will not allow that freedom of movement, so I see most of the County workers driving to work. With less than 1200 parking spaces onsite and adjacent to the Sears site, ALL parking will be used up by workers, and NO parking will be available for residents and businesspeople to go get permits, meet the County staff, attend County Committee meetings, or otherwise go to the new County offices. People driving around looking for a parking spot will negate any benefit from carbon friendly construction of the new buildings!
- Spreading out the County workers is the antithesis of efficiencies in my opinion. Right next door to our office at the NCBE is 37,000 sf of office space being leased by the County right now. All of the remote office rental space should be consolidated into a new County planned facility near the existing Courthouse and Jail which are not moving anytime soon. I think the benefit of having State and Federal offices near the Sears site is far less efficient overall than having all of the County on one 82-acre site.
- If properly planned on the existing 82-acre site, the construction could be easily staged in such a manner as to make the operation of existing services cheaper than staying in the old buildings while new construction goes on at Sears. My thought would be put a bunch of modern trailers on site now, demo the existing buildings, construct the new 18 story facility, and maybe a “twin tower” somewhat smaller next to it, and then the move is onsite rather than across town. Much cheaper in the long run.
- If the County thinks they can house 1800 employees on a 7.8-acre site at Sears, then certainly they could house all 4,000 employees on 40 acres at their current site. And with lots more parking spaces!! That leaves 42 acres they could develop for the much-needed affordable housing and a park like setting to enhance both the work environment and the ambiance for the affordable housing units.
I know my opinion is at odds with the Santa Rosa Metro and several of the current Supervisors. Either site will see the construction be under a Project Labor Agreement so there is not an advantage to labor either way. I just think it is “folly” to go to a very tight site that “hopes” workers will ride the bus to and from work, instead of how they get to their work now. If Sears is to be considered seriously, I would highly recommend/demand an intensive survey be done of all the County workers at their current and remote sites to see if they will ride public transit to and from work, and if they will hang out after work and eat and shop downtown. I bet the survey does not happen, but if it did, and the workers were honest, you would cross off Number 1 and 3 from my list above advocating for the move. And if a good plan for the existing County site can be developed to include affordable housing units, you could cross off Number 4 from my list advocating for the Sears site. That would leave the only good reason for moving to Sears being close proximity to the Federal and State buildings. No way would that reason wipe out the cost increase for building on the Sears site.
This to me in a no brainer. Stay put County!
That’s All Folks!