Fresno County board falls short of votes needed to sell Elkhorn Boot Camp

A majority of Fresno County supervisors want to sell the old Elkhorn Boot Camp near Caruthers, but they were unable Tuesday to put it up for auction.

The board voted 3-2 to approve the sale as long as the county makes at least $4.987 million.

But state law says a simple majority isn't enough to approve a surplus property sale such as Elkhorn; it takes four votes on a five-member board.

It wasn't until after the 3-2 vote that supervisors learned that the plan to sell the property technically failed, said county Counsel Dan Cederborg.

Supervisors Debbie Poochigian and Henry R. Perea voted no, saying the entire property shouldn't have to be sold. They suggested selling half the land, enough to pay for demolition of buildings.

In July, supervisors declared the land surplus with the intention of putting it up to auction.

Supervisors asked staff to return next month with options to sell half the land.

The 317-acre property sits just east of Highway 41 and north of Elkhorn Avenue, surrounded mostly by farm land. These days, the county leases 245 acres of Elkhorn property for farming. That's what makes it valuable -- appraised for nearly $5.8 million. But with $800,000 of demolition, the county discounted the price to just under $5 million. In addition to the building demolition, the county must relocate a radio tower on the property, which could cost as much as $600,000.

In the 1950s, the property opened as an honor farm to provide food items for the jail. The honor farm closed in 1994, but Elkhorn reopened as a youth boot camp in 1997 before closing in 2009 because of budget cuts. The buildings have remained vacant since.

Supervisor Phil Larson said that he and other supervisors have had inquiries about selling the land.

Supervisors said they were concerned about maintenance, utilities and costs from vandalism and theft on property, which has amounted to $409,325 since 2011. Elkhorn is an attractive nuisance, supervisors said.

Perea and Poochigian thought there could be an advantage to keeping a portion of the property. Neither would budge when asked if they could support the majority. Supervisor Andreas Borgeas reminded that the board can always reject an offer for the boot camp land, but he still could not attract a fourth vote.

Borgeas, along with Larson and Judy Case McNairy, were in the majority.

Case McNairy said the buildings and radio tower are regularly vandalized, a continuing cost to the county. "Has anyone seen the facility?" she asked. "Nobody wants that next door to them."

She said the county has no reason to keep the land.

"No property tax is being paid on it so there is a loss of revenue in property tax and we don't have a public purpose for it," she said. "Why would government own land that could be owned by the public?"