Inyo County has agreed to enter exclusive negotiations with Joseph Enterprises for the purchase of property that can be used for consolidated office space.
Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes opposed the exclusive agreement, saying that now is not the time for the county to go into debt to build new office space that would ultimately negatively impact the local community.
According to County Administrative Office Kevin Carunchio, the agreement signed Tuesday does not obligate the county to any specific piece of property or project. The negotiation, he said, is just a guarantee to Joseph Enterprises that the county is not working with anyone else on the project.
Carunchio added that the county has the ability to opt out of the agreement at any time.
The county is working with Joseph Enterprises to build a consolidated office space that would house a number of county departments on Wye Road.
No specific agreements have been made, but county leaders said there have been discussions about trading a county-owned parcel south of Bishop near Jack In the Box for the property on Wye Road.
Carunchio also said that no county offices located in Independence, Lone Pine or any community other than Bishop would be relocated to the new consolidated space if the county chooses to build it.
According to Carunchio, the new facility would “increase operating efficiency” by consolidating reception staff for several offices and reducing travel time for employees to coordinate between offices.
Carunchio also said a consolidated office would be more convenient for citizens utilizing county services.
“We’re a long, long way from striking a deal, but this will get the ball rolling,” Carunchio said.
The next step in the process will be to create a term sheet that outlines the agreements for negotiations. From there the county will work with Joseph Enterprises on building concept plans and forming an official time line.
At that time, Carunchio said, the county will have a good idea of what departments could be housed in the new building, and how much the county would save on leasing office space.
“This is the mechanism through which we can get a lot of those details,” First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said of Tuesday’s action. “The state’s mentality to transfer more and more programs to the county are a fact, and we need to plan to provide those services.”
Second District Supervisor Susan Cash described some county offices as a “rabbit warren” that create privacy issues for some Health and Human Services departments, and an overall hazard should employees be forced to evacuate the building in an emergency.
Currently, the county leases more than seven buildings in Bishop, not including the space leased by the Inyo Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Wellness Center.
Cervantes said he could not support any move to dedicate staff time or county dollars to the acquisition of a new county office building.
“We do not live in a vacuum,” Cervantes said. “We are in a severe financial crisis, and this is not the time. If we had revenue that was secure, or if the economy was on the upswing, it would be different.”
Cervantes went on to say that he has toured the county’s offices in Bishop, and each is equipped with air conditioning and heating. “They have all the necessities,” he said. “I’m very conservative. If the county wants to build a building, it should save the money to build it,” and not commit to debt.
“This decision is not to approve a deal,” said Third District Supervisor Rick Pucci. “If it was, I’m not sure I’d approve it. What we’re doing today is looking at an option.”
Lone Pine resident Jenifer Castaneda asked county leaders to spend more time considering the need for a new building, and asked that the public be more involved.
“Consider the impact on the seven landlords that are currently leasing to the county” and what impact the project will have on them, Castaneda said. She also suggested the county notify its current landlords about the project, and see if leases could be renegotiated for a lower price.
Independence resident Mary Roper asked that the county conduct a needs assessment to determine the square footage needed, cost of moves and an overall justification for why the county should build a new building.
Supervisor Cash pointed out that none of those details have been hashed out yet, as there has been no agreement for negotiations.
The agreement approved Tuesday will allow the county to begin finding answers to some of the questions that were brought up in the meeting.