Sonoma County Supervisors who had sought more detailed financial specs this month about a proposed purchase of the former Sears Building in Santa Rosa were still not convinced after hearing a more in-depth report on the feasibility of moving many county government offices into the 7.24-acre site.

The decision to purchase the site has been pushed to a future meeting that could take place in two to three months, which some supervisors noted could mean losing the deal entirely.

The Sears site has a purchase price of $20.75 million, with estimated annual costs ranging from $39 million to $55 million in contractor payments, also known as availability payments.

Four “yes” votes would have been required at the board’s March 1 meeting to move ahead with the purchase. As it stands, supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins remain the most vocal about reservations that they have, with Rabbitt flat-out saying he does not support the Sears building idea.

Sonoma County supervisors have put off a vote on whether to purchase the former Sears Auto Center property in Santa Rosa at a cost of $20.75 million. The site would be used to construct new county offices. (Google image)

Rabbitt, who said he is the only person on the board with actual development experience, still questions signing on to annual payments up to $55 million over 30 years with a 45 percent contingency built into projections, which he sees as a lack of faith in the numbers in the first place.

“That wouldn’t happen in the private sector,” he said.

Hopkins reiterated her concern about the need for satellite offices and how the $1 million proposed for them would not be enough. These offshoots would support homelessness and other low-income priorities, and she has said that they are being treated as an “afterthought.” Hopkins went as far as to say that this was the county’s “Let them eat cake” moment and that the people who are pushing her the hardest on the Sears deal are “well-off white guys.” She also claims that “92 percent of the workforce oppose this move.”

Concept or fantasy

Last month, Supervisors Rabbitt and Hopkins had both expressed trepidation with moving forward with the large expenditure without doing more due diligence about projected costs beyond those already discussed. Rabbitt said that if projected costs are not taken into account, the county could be looking at a “dirt lot” and not a bustling center of governance. Hopkins said the whole thing was giving her “heartburn” and that she was being “asked to sign a blank check for what is at best a concept and what is at worst a fantasy.”

Supervisors had previously highlighted the property in downtown Santa Rosa to house many county facilities, not including the sheriff’s office, jail, or courthouse.

The current County Government Center, located on County Center Drive in Santa Rosa, includes 26 departments that oversee health and safety, parks, hospitals, transportation systems, homeless services, agriculture, sanitation and the environment.

Every supervisor has agreed that the current center needs to be overhauled, citing the growth of government over the last 60 years, aging facilities, and growing costs such as deferred maintenance to the tune of $660 million, according to County General Services director Caroline Judy.

The need for more space has also led to the need for the leasing of commercial office space, another expense.

Ultimately the board decided to take the risk of losing the Sears deal should the seller back out or find another buyer by waiting until after the annual budget is nailed down in spring.

“If this needs to be delayed, then it needs to be delayed,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey. “We all need to be on the same page here.”