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Homes' Sale by Oxnard Faulted

Council members are accused of favoritism after voting to sell two historical properties for much less than the city spent on them.

August 28, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Brushing off accusations that officials had engineered a sweetheart real estate deal for a local businessman, the Oxnard City Council has voted to sell two historical properties in the city's Heritage Square for a fraction of what it spent on them.

Al Barkley will buy the two-story buildings for $685,000, a price critics have called suspicious because the city spent nearly $900,000 to spruce up just one of them.

"This stinks to high heaven, and people will be held accountable," said Armando Vazquez, a teacher and downtown property owner, who echoed the comments of most of the speakers at a Tuesday night council meeting.

Barkley, who owns an insurance firm near Heritage Square, is chairman of the Oxnard Downtown Partnership, an improvement district formed in 2001.

Barkley did not speak at the meeting and was not available for comment Wednesday.

Local business owners and area residents have questioned the way the city's Community Development Commission handled the deal for the properties. At Tuesday's meeting, they complained that the buildings were not advertised properly and asked why they were not being sold to the highest bidder.

While audience members heckled and muttered under their breath, Curtis Cannon, the city's community development manager, explained that the highest price is not always what's best for the city.

"I'm not saying it's easy for anybody to accept," Cannon said. Redevelopment law "talks about the highest and best use to alleviate blight and improve conditions in an area."

The high bidder, he said, wanted a loan from the city, while Barkley was prepared to pay mostly cash.

The city's Community Development Commission has spent more than $5 million on the purchase and renovation of Heritage Square, a group of historical buildings downtown that are mostly used by small office tenants.

City officials said the sales prices for the Perkins and Petit houses were at par with recent appraisals, which, according to city documents, valued the Perkins property at $326,000 and the Petit building at $349,000.

The sale will benefit the city in a number of long-term ways, officials have said, including generating additional property tax revenue, creating new jobs and encouraging more business activity downtown.

All council members except Mayor Manuel Lopez, who recused himself because he has business interests in the downtown area, voted in favor of the sale to Barkley.

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