May has become a stormy month for prospects of Sacramento-based developer Paul Petrovich to install a 12-screen cineplex within downtown Woodland, replacing the historic Electric Garage Building, present location of Dave Hoblit’s Chrysler-Dodge dealership.

Progress on the city’s original planning timeline for processing this complex, multi-phased development — has currently stalled — about six months behind schedule.

City staff indicate that unless his project soon gets on track, its now quite tentative completion date of June 2012 will likely become at least January 2013.

Petrovich has provided a letter of agency establishing Dave Corkill of CinemaWest (theater builders and operators) as the formal applicant and has also submitted proposed elevations (graphic depictions) of such a facility.

Frontage forty-feet wide and most of the way along Main Street, from Third to Fourth Street, is proposed as various retail space with ownership retained by Petrovich; while, the remainder of this parcel (extending to Dead Cat Alley) would eventually become owned by CinemaWest.

Petrovich has stated publicly that his development of this forty-foot wide strip along Main Street would occur at some later, indeterminate time, perhaps years after cineplex construction.

Surprisingly, Petrovich has yet to fund the basic, preliminary elements of his development proposal (environmental impact report, conditional use permit processes, demolition permit, etc.), which are clearly essential for his cineplex project to proceed.

City manager Mark Deven very recently indicated that he has absolutely no idea about when this development process will move forward.

At the same time, Petrovich is abruptly replaying an eviction drama from a few years ago, that still haunts Dave Hoblit.

____  Petrovich Sues To Swiftly Oust Hoblit Motors  ____

Sometime during April, Petrovich suddenly filed a lawsuit in Yolo County Superior Court to compel the immediate eviction of Hoblit’s car and truck (and Jeep) dealership from his property, the former Electric Garage, at the dawn of the 20th Century home of the initial automobile dealership in Yolo County.

Court records in such (unlawful detainer) cases are sealed (confidential) for 61 days, temporarily insulating parties in such litigation from detailed public exposure; however, if a case doesn’t settle within that period of time — these records enter the public sphere.

When a fleeting yet competing proposal for a downtown cineplex project unexpectedly surfaced several years ago, Petrovich sent Hoblit an instant letter of eviction; but he then recalled it as that proposal rather quickly evaporated.

Petrovich may be similarly motivated in this current, aggravated instance of eviction, by the fact that Frank Rimkus, CEO of Galaxy Theatres (a multi-state movie-house chain) has recently said that his corporation is — “still considering” — whether to file a project application to construct a new cineplex at the northeastern corner of Main and Walnut Streets, across Main Street from (now blighted) State Theatre.

Such a development scenario would present the winner of any cineplex race, as the one who first breaks ground for construction.

Thus, it’s somewhat unclear why Petorvich is stalling project process while deliberately moving to oust Hoblit’s dealership. Apparently, this dealership’s continued presence must be eliminated, prior to initiating even the preliminary elements of this project application.

____  Hoblit’s Struggle With Petrovich  ____

Dave Hoblit, often described as a classically-styled, “old-school, handshake-pledge” businessman, has (in former interview) not appreciated or enjoyed his now decade-long encounter with Paul Petrovich’s distinctly new-age, impulsive and pugnacious style.

Petrovich kept changing and de-incentivizing various deals to relocate auto dealerships to his Gateway development, according to Hoblit, leading to his finally giving-up on any chance of obtaining an acceptable proposal.

Petrovich suddenly doubled Hoblit’s monthly rent ($5500 to $10,000) in August of 2010, an action Hoblit attempted to legally resist and expressed grim determination to soon escape.

Repeatedly (and figuratively) declaring: “Petrovich has a gun to my head,” in late 2010 Hoblit painted a stark picture of their uncomfortable relationship, which has since obviously further deteriorated — with his dealership on the brink of homelessness / immediate closure — despite the fact that any prospective demolition of Electric Garage remains many months away into the future.

Hoblit Motors creates about $300,000 annually in sales tax revenue and around 40 jobs in Woodland.

____  New (Small) Auto Mall?  ____

Dave Hoblit has recently discovered a 12 acre parcel emerging from the newly adjusted flood-plain, upon which he and Scott Vanderbeek of Woodland (General) Motors have deposited a sum of money sufficient to control it and eventually establish joint-ownership.

This proposed auto-mall type of development would be located at eastern Freeway Drive, along the northern freeway frontage of Interstate 5 (near County Road 102).

City staff indicate that there exists no similar (I-5 freeway-frontage) auto-mall sort of facility, between Red Bluff and Stockton, being relatively optimistic about its commercial potential.

“It’s exactly the sort of location Dave’s been wanting [for relocation],” according to a member of his staff.

The tremendous problem for Hoblit is: What to do with his dealership — until such a proposed project becomes a firm reality, perhaps as much as two years into the future.

____  Hoblit May Move To Former Site Of Woodland Motors  ____

One option that Dave Hoblit is at this time actively exploring is temporary relocation to the downtown block, Main to Court Streets between Walnut and Elm Streets, formerly occupied by Vanderbeek’s Woodland Motors.

This enormous (2.6 acre) parcel has been acquired by local developer, Ron Caceres, who confirms independent information revealing Hoblit quite recently (“under legal pressure” to soon relocate) visited this site with some of his staff to assess in detail its potential use by his dealership.

Already, hundreds of Hoblit’s new vehicles (police interceptors to dual-axel trucks) are being parked on Caceres’ parcel along Court Street.

City staff indicate cooperative arrangements are quite possible regarding the permitting issues involved with re-occupying this unreinforced masonry structure, emphasizing the context-specific nature of evaluating formal permit approval.

“Public [/ domicile] uses, especially within a multi-story building of this kind of structure, would certainly raise serious concerns,” explains Deputy Community Development Director, Paul Siegel.

“Limiting general access to company employees, however,” describes Siegel, ”who are properly informed and trained about(earthquake) emergency procedures greatly reduces potential municipal liabilities for re-occupation of this single-story facility, as long as progress is being accomplished [on a plan for eventual seismic retro-fit].”

Siegel confirms that city planning staff provided the go-ahead for Hoblit and Caceres to begin to actively, creatively consider the possibility of such a temporary relocation to 333 Main Street.

Only a few years ago, connected with a huge — but now abandoned — mixed-use development project, City Center Lofts, this (mid-20th Century) building, a direct reflection of the industrial architectural style of (early 20th Century) Electric Garage — was only a few months away from demolition.

____  Redevelopment Agency Help Barred By State Law  ____

Woodland Redevelopment Agency has for many months been seriously considering an expenditure of $200,000 toward a relocation of Hoblit Motors, based upon an argument that it has been: “[S]purred by redevelopment actions” related to Petrovich’s cineplex plan.

However, questions about the precise nature of the legal / factual relationship betwixt Petrovich, Hoblit and the Woodland Redevelopment Agency has led to a public dispute over whether the Agency or Petrovich is actually the proper source of assistance for Hoblit’s relocation.

Unfortunately, while buoyed-up long-term by finally discovering his long hoped for, permanent relocation site, rising out of a former floodplain on the city’s eastern outskirts — that very decision will apparently forbid his receipt of funding assistance from the city redevelopment agency.

Redevelopment law (specifically, Health and Safety Code, Section 33426.5) explicitly establishes that: “[A]n agency shall not provide any form of direct assistance to [a]n automobile dealership which will be or is on a parcel of land which has not previously been developed for urban use[.]”

This provision of state law was inserted during what is described within legislative archives as a much needed overhaul of redevelopment authority. An omnibus reform measure to properly recast the full scope of redevelopment powers (AB 1290) and reign-in various abuses was successfully adopted in 1994, authored by former Sacramento Mayor and Assembly Member Phil Isenberg.

Considerable amounts of statewide redevelopment funding was apparently being used to support relocation of auto dealerships, without fiscally sound and legally justifiable bases in both blight-removal policy and urban focus, leading to inclusion within AB 1290 of section 33426.5.

____  City Staff / Counsel Yet Unresponsive  ____

City hall staff (Deven, etc.) have for a week been unresponsive to Yolo Sun requests for formal reaction by municipal / agency legal counsel, to what clearly appears to be a stout legal barrier against this long-contemplated agency action of providing relocation help for long-suffering Hoblit.

Much public controversy exists regarding such a proposed use of redevelopment agency funds, precisely related to any shouldering of peculiar burdens arising from the adversely oriented relationship between Hoblit and Petrovich — which has now boiled-over into formal court action seeking instant eviction.

Hoblit’s staff confirm that until quite recently he would have liked to remain in some kind of — reasonable tenancy relationship — with Petrovich, until a solid imperative duly arises for him to vacate; for example: Municipal approval of an impending demolition of Electric Garage.

But: “Old-school collided with young-shark” — (metaphorically) quipped one knowledgeable bystander.

This collision now appears to have become a total wreck, with attorneys and a judge being suitably deployed.

Lacking redevelopment agency assistance for Hoblit’s relocation, Petrovich’s project becomes the logical tether for such funding (through means of its environmental report, conditional use permit and demolition permit, etc.), which is arguably the primary reason why Petrovich desires to own an — already vacant building — when he formally pays to engage the planning process toward progressing with his cineplex project.

____  Now No Redevelopment Money For Petrovich’s Project  ____

During the previous several months, dual proposals have surfaced for redevelopment agency funding in general support of Petrovich’s cineplex project, $200,000 of relocation assistance for Hoblit and another $800,000 for various public improvements contiguous to his project.

Both proposals have become widely controversial based upon the fact that Petrovich declared when abruptly exiting a six-month, formal contest of agency evaluation, that he would not need any redevelopment funding to pursue his cineplex project.

Subsequent agency suspension of this process of project evaluation / comparison appeared politically predicated on this declaration of Petrovich, yet technically based upon a patently spurious (and curious) account of relevant planning processes.

Woodland City Council Member, Bill Marble, who alone opposed suspension, late last year, of this redevelopment agency evaluation process, has also on several occasions spoken in opposition to such proposals of municipal subsidy for Petrovich’s project, separately describing them in writing as: “A sad situation.”

Despite Petrovich’s assertion that he doesn’t require agency subsidies, a series of agency staff reports have continued to raise these potential expenditures, in conjunction with a plethora of causes / projects being swiftly scrutinized in advance of (some seasoned observers say, now unlikely) state budgetary proposals to eliminate redevelopment agencies and re-apportion all unencumbered revenue.

Health and Safety Code, Section 33445 states that: “]A]n agency may [ ] pay all or part of [ ] the cost of installation and construction of [an] improvement that is publicly owned and is located inside or contiguous to [a] project area [ — ] if the legislative body [of the redevelopment agency] determines[: such] improvements are publicly owned [and] of benefit to the project area by helping to eliminate blight[, and] no other reasonable means of financing [such] improvements are available to the community.”

These formal findings must be adopted by the city council, acting as redevelopment agency directors, in order to make lawful the proposed expenditure of $800,000 in support of Petrovich’s cineplex project.

State law in this regard plainly appears to thereby demand (among other things) an explicit determination that Petrovich / Corkill are somehow unable to pay the usual, ordinarily imposed project development costs, such as expenses to properly upgrade public infrastructure (sidewalks, lighting, sewers, etc.) contiguous to this proposed cineplex development.

Apparently, a majority of redevelopment agency directors, duly required to approve this $800,000 — based upon such findings and determinations — has recently become unavailable.

City manager Deven now indicates that he does not foresee this $800,000 expenditure item ever again coming before the redevelopment agency board of directors.

____  Electric Garage = “Blight?”  ____

Interestingly, another provision of state redevelopment law directly relates to potential conditions with Electric Garage. Section 33022 states that: “Redevelopment does not exclude the continuance of existing buildings or uses whose demolition and rebuilding or change of use are not deemed essential to the redevelopment  and rehabilitation of the area.”

In other words, can an historic facility currently (and for more than a hundred years) successfully functioning as a motor-vehicle dealership properly be termed an inherent ingredient of urban “blight,” correction of which essentially necessitates its demolition?

“Blight” more typically resembles the proximity surrounding State Theatre, which was the (competing) proposed cineplex project recently declined any cooperation or assistance by redevelopment agency directors.