YOLO SUN OPINION :

Sacramento real-estate developer Paul Petrovich may have helped bring a Costco to Woodland, but he’s also brought a mess fest of civic planning chaos.

Currently playing at this ongoing theater of undesirable drama is the spectacle of Petrovich — who last July doubled the rent ($5500 to $10,000) paid by Hoblit Motors for occupancy of Electric Garage — now suing to evict.

Hoblit Motors is being compelled by a court-ordered stipulation settlement of this unlawful detainer action, to temporarily relocate at 333 Main Street, former home of Woodland Motors, across Main Street from Elm Ford.

Woodland Redevelopment Agency has (formally since April 5) proposed expending $200,000 to assist relocation of Hoblit Motors, in blatant violation of state law; whereas, such assistance should be paid by Paul Petrovich as a condition of approval of any related development project.

Historically, Petrovich has had quite an undesirable influence on community planning within the downtown area.

____ Petrovich Sues To Evict Hoblit  ____

Dave Hoblit told Yolo Sun last September that although he viewed this sudden rent increase (to $10,000 per month) as quite excessive, he would have to pay it to Petrovich — but he would do so only until January of 2011.

“I want to keep my Woodland dealership, but Petrovich has a gun to my head,” reiterated Hoblit, exasperated by this predicament not of his making and wondering if and where another home for his dealership may eventually be found.

Court documents from the now settled legal battle between them reveal that Hoblit kept his pledge. In February 2011, he began paying Petrovich $6500 per month, apparently Hoblit’s offer within lease negotiations which collapsed in 2007.

At the outset of March, Petrovich initiated preliminary legal action to oust Hoblit for non-payment of established rent. Hoblit continued to pay $6500 for both March and April.

On April 28, Petrovich’s attorney filed with the superior court a trial brief, the trial on a charge of unlawful detainer being (re)set to May 13.

At this court appearance, a settlement of this dispute was reached and a trial avoided. Petrovich’s counsel was ordered by the court to: “prepare a formal stipulation settlement [to] put on the record.”

The specific details of this settlement stipulation remain undisclosed as of June 8, but it clearly involves Hoblit relocating with all due haste.

Hoblit initially leased Electric Garage in April, 1999, from then owner Lonny Pritchard, on terms of $5500 per month for five years, with four annual one-year options for renewal. When this lease arrangement finally expired in 2007, Paul Petrovich was the new landlord upon the prospect of demolishing Electric Garage and constructing a downtown cineplex.

“In 2007,” assert court documents, “the parties initiated negotiations for a [new] five year lease in connection with a purchase agreement for a separate property. However, the parties never executed the lease because they could not agree on material terms of the lease. Petrovich then revoked all outstanding offers. Hoblit’s occupancy continued on a month to month basis.”

____  Hoblit Motors Forced Into Month To Month Tenancy  ____

This — “purchase agreement for a separate property” — refers to Petrovich’s efforts to relocate Hoblit Motors to his Gateway Center development(s). Dave Hoblit has indicated to Yolo Sun his extreme displeasure with Petrovich’s ever-shifting style of relocation proposals.

Likely, Hoblit’s perspective has directly affected these negotiations for any new lease from Petrovich for him at Electric Garage.

In other words — having in 2007 spurned Petrovich’s proposal and terms for his eventual relocation at Gateway Center, to be somehow in phase with demolition of Electric Garage, Hoblit has since 2008 been set adrift within a month to month tenancy.

Conflicting (not so oddly) with this unsettled situation, Petrovich in 2010 (all too believably) announced to Woodland City Council, responding to inquiry by Council Member Bill Marble, that Hoblit Motors was indeed expected to relocate into an expansion of Gateway Center.

Hoblit simultaneously confirmed to Yolo Sun the complete lunacy of Petrovich’s announced expectation.

Hoblit Motors is one of Woodland’s largest sources of sales tax revenue and employs more than 40 persons. Its downtown presence is often viewed as very beneficial by many nearby merchants, expressing that the activity-magnet of this dealership constantly brings customers in their doors.

What really stands in the way of Hoblit Motors continuing to occupy Electric Garage, pending an actual need to move, thus avoiding temporary relocation until its permanent facility (now being planned) is available?

Apparently, only Petrovich’s enigmatic petulance.

____  Petrovich Loses Money On Hoblit Motors Eviction, . . . Why Do It?  ____

The optimum outcome for all involved regarding these relocation matters appears vividly clear.

Hoblit Motors should have had some reasonable (cooperative) arrangement option for remaining at Electric Garage, until its relocation becomes truly imperative due to (presently, only potential) issuance of municipal approval for a building demolition permit connected with Petrovich’s cineplex project.

It appears obvious that no such demolition permit would be lawful to issue until sometime in 2012.

Municipal records indicate that three basic planning phases must be accomplished by Petrovich’s project: (a) a “focused” environmental impact report, (b) a conditional use permit process and (c) a demolition permit process.

Demolition action, of course, trails these other matters.

Petrovich is presently stalling his own project, by so far failing to fund these several aspects of developmental process. City staff now describe this project as at least 6 months behind schedule, and if approved, not expected to be completed until January, 2013.

Petrovich is for some reason choosing to lose at least $65,000 (Hoblit’s demonstrated, tangible offer of $6500 per month as rent until any relevance of building demolition genuinely arises — likely 10 months); while, his continuing demand for essentially a rent-doubling that would only last until his project moves forward, (unnecessarily) compels Hoblit’s ouster.

Injuries to Hoblit Motors caused by Petrovich’s surly petulance, is surely grist for establishing suitable contours of any — conditional — project approval he will confront.

It’s difficult to see how developers make money with such strange strategies. Something else must factor into Petrovich’s motivations and action.

Whatever his clever motivations, for prematurely expelling Hoblit Motors — Petrovich has succeeded in further alienating himself from Woodlanders.

____  Redevelopment Agency Inclines Toward Unlawful Action?  ____

State law (Health & Safety Code, section 33426.5) forbids redevelopment agency funds from being provided to auto dealerships which locate on a land parcel “which has not previously been developed for urban use,” such as the parcel indicated by the city for permanent relocation of Hoblit Motors, approximately 12 acres with marvelous freeway exposure at the eastern edge of town.

Hoblit and Scott Vanderbeek of Woodland Motors have already acted to obtain developmental control over this undeveloped parcel, anticipating planning and construction of a permanent facility for both franchise (Chrysler – GM) dealerships.

Another (closely related) provision of state law plainly forbids redevelopment agency funds from being provided to any development “of five acres or more which has not previously been developed for urban use,” if the nature of such development will create retail sales tax generation in the manner of an automobile dealership.

State law — with obviously sound policy considerations — generally forbids spending redevelopment money for further primary development, often on the community periphery; whereas, the basic purpose of redevelopment is to cure blight upon already developed land.

This is common sense, isn’t it?

Thus, Woodland Redevelopment Agency is doubly barred by state law from assisting such a relocation of Hoblit Motors.

____  Recent Legal Challenge To Proposed Agency Action  ____

Likely, this unlawful condition being expressed to the redevelopment agency — in a (written) form capable of legal consequences — caused an item approving $200,000 for such relocation to be removed from a recent agency meeting agenda (June 7).

Had there been no submission of such an inherently legal document, suitably challenging this agency action, the action would have upon adoption become immune to legal contest.

This legal memorandum filed with the agency, opposing such agency action — advises that: “Proper avenue / source of relocation assistance for the Hoblit auto dealership exists through conditional approval process related to this (movie theater multiplex) project; as, using agency funds for this purpose is clearly unjustifiable and unlawful.”

Agency staff have casually mentioned a belief that such state law is intended to prevent inter-jurisdictional competition for extending redevelopment funding to attract sales-tax generators (big-box retail, auto dealers, etc.).

However, this specific policy problem is clearly addressed otherwise within redevelopment law.

The agency director (Woodland City Manager, Mark Deven) claims in a recent press account that he intends to soon (June 21) bring forward — “a legal workaround” — purported to satisfy state law; although — no specific details are yet provided.

Certainly, it would seem that if any — valid — “legal workaround” — truly existed, this approach would have been initially presented, long before the time that such key relocation funding would be forced to compete with myriad other causes in a sudden race to encumber all loose redevelopment money prior to July 1; since, Hoblit Motors is currently a very important source of sales-tax revenue for the city.

____  State Law Protections Unavailable  ____

State relocation law (California Relocation Assistance Act, Gov. Code section 7260, et seq) has been cited within a pertinent staff report, as one possible source of legitimacy for agency assistance to Hoblit; although, these provisions only apply to “projects or programs undertaken by a public entity.”

Petrovich’s cineplex project is not so situated; indeed, it has been explicitly deemed to be fully independent of redevelopment agency (“public entity”) control.

Health & Safety Code section 33622 offers another, yet equally legally implausible, avenue for providing redevelopment money for relocation of Hoblit Motors.

It states that: “By resolution of the [agency board of directors, its] money may be expended from time to time for: (a) The acquisition of real property in the project area. (b) The clearance, aiding in relocation of site occupants, and preparation of any project site for redevelopment.”

This provision speaks to “any project site for redevelopment” by such an agency, within agency control, by legally cobbling together the rough outlines of ordinarily lawful agency action — which is imperative for its acquiring and developing property.

Attempting to apply subsection (b) alone, to Petrovich’s private project, primarily moving outside of agency involvement, is legally suspect and would likely be challenged.

____  Other Planning Messes Related To Petrovich  ____

In 2002-03, Petrovich managed to skew Woodland’s Downtown Specific Plan toward his desired cineplex location, undermining the Plan’s original goal of renovating and expanding the Art Deco era (1937) State Theatre. This key goal of the Plan, establishing a major (entertainment oriented) anchoring edifice at the downtown’s western gateway, had already been gravely undermined at the Plan’s inception by astonishing municipal misjudgment allowing a cineplex to locate at the new County Fair Mall.

Reserved zoning of entertainment uses such as movie theaters, to within the downtown area, was viewed by Woodland’s city council of those days (circa 1990) as somehow a violation of private property rights. If shopping-mall developers and owners (such as Petrovich) wanted a cineplex, their desires trumped civic interest in the merits of a sensible zoning system.

Petrovich’s precious impulse to locate a cineplex upon the site of (thus, demolished) historic Electric Garage, the initial motor-vehicle dealership in Yolo County, continuously operated as such for more than a century, was sparked and driven by purely speculative, since evaporated expectation of a contiguous parking structure related to a new County courthouse.

Initially, Petrovich wanted to develop a new theater complex within his Gateway Center(s). Under pressure from city planning staff, recognizing a potential repeat of the enormous fiasco of allowing a cineplex at the mall, his desire was directed toward a downtown location.

Inexplicably, Petrovich’s desired cineplex location / project was strongly prioritized; as well as, grounded in a bizarre and reckless notion of dividing the six block long downtown area by designating a three block long “entertainment district” within its eastern portion.

On its very face, such an approach clearly and directly subverts the Downtown Specific Plan’s more congruent goals related to the potential function of State Theatre; however, such an obvious contradiction / inconsistency within the Plan has never been addressed.

Very recent attention to the precarious fate of State Theatre, certainly does not serve to erase its being placed in severe jeopardy through the adverse influence of Petrovich upon evolution of Woodland’s downtown.

Petrovich (often with city hall’s help) makes a big mess, eventually causing a municipal / civic scramble attempting to clean it up.

Justifiable, accountable and timely mitigation for severe consequences to downtown Woodland (not to mention County Fair Mall) from the vast retail sprawl of Petrovich’s Gateway Center, was imprudently bargained away by a previous city council, which gave Petrovich six and a half years to do pretty much whatever he wants, unbridled by civic interest / judgment / discretion.

Another persistent mess is this, requiring constant vigilance to launder.

Petrovich obtained (2008) municipal approval to construct a single-story, strip-mall Rite Aid store upon the eastern gateway of Woodland’s downtown, effectively destroying the nature of such a gateway, a key element of the Downtown Specific Plan.

The Wiseman building would meet the Stupidman building.

Fortunately, advent of the Great Recession dissolved this absurd plan, a huge and irreversible mess only barely dodged.

Woodland has suffered a veritable mess storm related to Petrovich.

What’s up next on the emerging horizon of this constant mess fest?

Petrovich has recently sold to the city, for one dollar ($1), land along the Sacramento River to be used for an easement to facilitate the city’s new surface water project, causing rampant speculation over what he now expects to obtain from the city in return for this benefit.

Petrovich’s Gateway 2 project was announced this week (June 9), to be soon moving forward at Woodland Planning Commission.

What new messes will soon arise in connection with these situations?

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