The California High-Speed Rail Authority is continuing to evaluate sites for a heavy maintenance facility that would be the primary statewide site for major service on its trains – and Fresno wants to do whatever it can to encourage the state to select a site at the southern edge of the city.
On Thursday, the Fresno City Council will consider authorizing negotiations with the owners of 16 pieces of property adding up to about 166 acres. If approved, the city would pony up nonrefundable deposits to secure one-year options to buy the land for a maintenance station. The total amount of the deposits would be no more than $250,000, with another $250,000 for a second year of options if the state has not yet chosen a site.
Fresno’s proposed site, along the BNSF Railway freight tracks and Cedar Avenue between American and Clayton avenues, is in competition with other sites in the Valley for the maintenance facility – considered something of an economic golden goose because of its potential to employ more than 1,000 workers and serve as a magnet for other industries serving the state’s ambitious bullet-train program.
Fresno County has already committed $25 million from Measure C, the county’s half-cent sales-tax supplement for transportation, to the state if the rail authority chooses the Fresno site over competing sites in Kern, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. The city would seek reimbursement of its option payments to property owners from the Fresno County Transportation Authority, a board that controls Measure C funds and is composed of representatives from Fresno County and its other cities.
The city and county have mounted a full-court press for the heavy-maintenance facility since 2010, when the rail authority first announced its plans to put it somewhere in the Valley and asked communities to present proposals with possible locations. Six years later, with initial construction of the rail line underway in the region, the state is still assessing its options. According to a spokeswoman, the authority expects to announce a decision next year.
In economic development terms, you’re lucky if a government project like this comes along once every 25 or 30 years.
Larry Westerlund, economic development director for the city of Fresno
“We’ve got a great project, but the biggest impediment is that we don’t control the property,” said Larry Westerlund, the city’s economic development director. Fresno, he added, is competing against proposals from other Valley counties, several of which have only one owner or a small group of owners to simplify eventual sale negotiations with the rail authority.
“In economic-development terms, you’re lucky if a government project like this comes along once every 25 or 30 years,” Westerlund said. Like the University of California campus that Fresno lost to Merced years ago, the rail-maintenance facility “is kind of a generational thing. So we can’t screw it up. We have to do it right.”
By securing purchase options on the various properties included in Fresno’s proposed maintenance site, the city “essentially ties up the property for two years,” Westerlund added. If the rail authority chooses the Fresno site, the city would assign the options to either the state or to the Fresno County Transportation Authority to complete the purchases.
Also on the agenda
Among other issues Thursday, the council will:
▪ Groundwater management: Consider joining the North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency. The agency is the result of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, signed into law in 2014. Fresno and the cities of Clovis and Kerman, Fresno County, Fresno Irrigation District, Fresno State and several smaller water districts are forming the agency.
▪ Planning, housing workshop: Hold a workshop and study session on long-range planning for the downtown Fresno area and an update to the housing element of the city’s general plan. The session will include a discussion of the city’s code changes to streamline the approval of residential projects in the downtown area, and a review of state recommendations on the city’s housing element.
▪ Parking lot sale: Consider authorizing the sale of a city-owned downtown parking lot north of Fresno Street between H Street and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The state rail agency plans to use the 4.5-acre “Boxcar” lot as parking for its proposed downtown Fresno passenger station across Fresno Street at H Street. The city would receive just under $1.4 million for the property.