HANFORD – With questions of expensive Bastille maintenance dominating Hanford City Council news this week, the questions comes up: How did the dilapidated former county jail end up on the city's books?

It happened because on March 18, 2014, the then city council voted 4-0 to buy the building from Kings County for $1.

The city also bought the Old Courthouse for $1.

The county turned over the properties to the city in October 2014.

The Old Courthouse currently has tenants. The Bastille has been vacant since 2009.

Then-council members Gary Pannett, Russ Curry, Lou Martinez and Joleen Jameson voted to make the purchase. Then-Councilman Jim Irwin was absent.

The city had been leasing the building before buying it. 

The lease, which put the city on the hook for upkeep until 2034, was signed in 1975, and costs the city $1 per year.

According to Pannett, who is no longer on the council, there were rumblings that county officials were considering demolishing the building.

"They tried to get the city to buy the building for years," he said. "The county did not want the building."

Pannett noted that when the city bought it, the Bastille "was deteriorating, and we couldn't use the building in the condition it was in."

Doug Verboon, the county supervisor who was part of the unanimous 5-0 vote by the county Board of Supervisors on Oct. 14, 2014, to turn the Bastille over to the city, said he had misgivings about selling the building.

Since then, Verboon, who owns a shopping mall in Lemoore, said he's decided that local government bodies aren't well suited to managing property.

Verboon said the difficulties of managing his own mall property helped convince him.

Verboon remembers County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes making the argument in 2014 that the county shouldn't be in the property management business.

"I agree with Larry Spikes now," he said.

Spikes couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Joe Neves, Tony Barba and Richard Fagundes, who voted with Verboon, also couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Supervisor Richard Valle, who voted with Verboon, declined to comment.

Members of the Hanford City Council who voted with Pannett to buy the building offered various assessments of their decision in hindsight.

"I don't think it was a mistake," Curry said. "The buildings are the core of the downtown area."

Curry said he wished the city had "started budgeting money to fix it up" when the lease started.

Curry said a maintenance fund specifically for the Bastille should have been created "20-25 years ago," with money set aside annually.

"I have no idea why that wasn't done," he said.

"[The Bastille] is an integral part of Hanford as well as the county," Martinez said.

Martinez said he probably wouldn't have voted to buy the structure if he had known that just to make it habitable it would cost roughly $1 million.

The City Council, consisting of Sue Sorensen, Francisco Ramirez, Justin Mendes, David Ayers and Martin Devine, voted 5-0 Tuesday to reject a $1 million renovation package city staff said was necessary to get the building into a legally habitable state.

Spending the money would have put the city's general fund capital improvement fund into the red.

The vote came after several Hanford residents speaking during the public comment period sharply criticized the proposed expenditure.

"I don't think we were aware of the money it would take to convert it into something useful," Martinez said.

Joleen Jameson, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

Mendes called the 2014 decision to buy the building "a bad decision."

"There's a reason the county wanted to sell it for $1," he said. "They probably couldn't afford the maintenance."

At the March 7, 2017, council meeting, Mendes proposed selling the old post office building, currently rented by Rabobank, to generate money that could be used to fix the Bastille.

In the ensuing discussion, the council shot down that idea, with Devine, Ramirez, Ayers and Sorensen all saying they didn't want to sell it.

However, right before they voted Tuesday to kill the $1 million renovation package, council members expressed a willingness to consider selling the Bastille, perhaps to the Hanford Carnegie Museum.

Earlier at the same meeting, Carnegie volunteer Patricia Dickerson said the museum would be willing to buy the structure for $1. She said the museum, working with other organizations, could raise the money to fix it up.

Sorensen, Devine and Ayers couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Reached by phone, Ramirez said his decision not to spend the $1 million wasn't driven by negative public comments at Tuesday's meeting.

Ramirez said he had made the decision a few days earlier when he found out that the Longfield Center, a recreational facility in south Hanford, needed a new roof.

The council hasn't yet approved a replacement package for the Longfield roof. The money will come out of the same fund that would have been used to pay for the $1 million Bastille renovation package.

Ramirez said that with other needs pressing down on the city, the only feasible option he can see going forward for the Bastille is selling it to a nonprofit organization like the Carnegie.

"I envision it as a destination for a museum," he said. "We're not in the property management business. The city wasn't meant to do that."

Jerry Irons, a local developer who in 2016 submitted a proposal to the city to lease the Bastille and turn it into a microbrewery restaurant, said in an interview Friday that he's no longer interested in the idea.

Irons proposal estimated that the city needed to invest as much as $2.25 million to get the Bastille into a leasable state.

"I had talked to some microbrewery businesses that were interested, but the building was too costly unless the city made it leasable," Irons said.

Irons said Friday he's focusing on other real estate projects.

Irons said he wouldn't be interested in leasing the Bastille in its current state.

"The only way it would work for me, it would take the city to fix it," he said.

Irons said he'd probably "pass" if the city offered to sell it to him for $1.

Irons questioned whether any investor would be likely to buy the building.

"I think you can't dodge the bullet of deferred maintenance, structural maintenance," he said.

Mendes said that, at this point, selling the Bastille to the Carnegie for $1 is "probably the best course to take."

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

Outbrain