Plans to reconstruct the Casa de Esperanza building in Yuba City have been put on hold for at least another two weeks while county staff, organization representatives, the project bidder and the insurance company work out their differences. 

The old house adapted into a shelter for domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse victims and owned by the county was heavily damaged by fire just over three years ago.

Sutter County supervisors decided on the postponement Tuesday after discussing whether or not to accept a $1.4 million bid by Hilbers, Inc. to reconstruct Casa’s facility. The fire damaged portions of the facility’s first floor, second floor and roof in April 2016. The shelter has been operating out of space provided by Adventist Health/Rideout since then, but that is a temporary arrangement.

Officials looked ready to accept the Hilbers bid but were halted by insurance representatives that warned moving forward could result in arbitration and an even longer delay.

“I think at the end of the day when it goes back to the insurance company, they are going to reject it, and they are going to say it should go to arbitration, which is another 90 days. Are we willing to go that route? That’s fine, but for me I want to go the fastest route possible,” said Supervisor Jim Whiteaker.

A representative from the county’s insurance agency – Trindel Insurance Fund – said the main issue insurers would have with the bid is that the cost was about double what they initially thought the project would be and that only one bid was submitted. They requested the county go out for one more round of bids to see if any other companies were interested and could do it for less.

Board members expressed their frustrations to the representatives with how the insurance companies were handling the situation.

“We followed through on our end of the contract, ...you need to follow through to your side,” said Supervisor Mike Ziegenmeyer. “I’m all about saving money, that’s what we are here for, but the biggest thing with their offer is it’s incredible to the people of this community, and prolonging this is not doing us any good.”

Several community members spoke in favor of the board moving forward with the plans to avoid any more delays.

“Today should’ve been a celebration that after three long years, after 1,158 days, this reconstruction of 900 square feet is finally going forward. I’d take more than my allotted public comment time if I were to walk through all the facts about where the culpability lies for those delays, and I hoped we were able to have our voices heard today and move forward with the celebration that the victims in our community deserve and have patiently waited for for three years,” said Julie Gill Shuffield, board chairperson for Casa de Esperanza.

“…The amount of time it has taken to get here has a cost, and there’s a part that should be borne by the insurance company and the county for the amount of time it has taken to get here. And further delays will exacerbate it, not improve it.”

Over the next two weeks, the board expects all of the involved parties to meet and go over ways to solve the issue before next steps are taken, which would likely be going back out to bid. Supervisors said Hilbers, Inc., should not be punished for the fact that they were the only bid to be submitted, which is why they wanted them at the table. 

“If there was ever a situation that could be mishandled, this is it. It’s been mishandled, and there’s enough pointing to go around, but the county shares the majority of it, even if its only 51 percent, its probably more,” said Supervisor Ron Sullenger. “…I would be in favor of bringing it back, hopefully they can resolve a lot of the issues within two weeks, but I would be in favor of awarding this contract to Mr. Hilbers because he’s the only one that showed up to the dance.”

Property donation delay

The county was also planning to donate the property and facility to Casa de Esperanza for the purpose of providing shelter to victims of domestic violence. In the past, Casa has leased the property for $1 per year, but the county said donating it to the nonprofit organization would allow  them to carry out certain processes more quickly and limits the liability the county faces.

Shuffield thanked the board and county for considering the donation. The organization, she said, had one concern, however.

Under the proposed agreement, Casa would have to relinquish ownership back to the county if they wanted to relocate, meaning they could not profit from the property by selling or leasing it after they leave. 

The problem Casa has with that, Shuffield said, is that the shelter’s redesign only allows for up to 24 beds – before the fire there was a capacity of over 40 beds. That means it would likely only be a temporary solution until the organization could find a better fit.

Neal Hay, director of Development Services, said the reduction in beds was needed to come into compliance with California Building Code.

Casa’s counter offer is to rewrite the proposal to allow for the nonprofit, once it outgrows the building and finds a more suitable home, to lease the property to another community service provider or nonprofit organization, so as not to demolish the building.

The board voted to have city staff work with Casa to include the requested language changes before bringing it back for final approval in two weeks. Shuffield said the organization supported the temporary delay to allow for the changes. 

The next Sutter County Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for June 25 at 3 p.m.

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