RICHMOND -- The City Council voted unanimously Monday to beef up its lending offer to a local property owner, seeking a last-minute edge in the competition with Concord over which city becomes the site of a new Affordable Care Act call center and more than 200 jobs.
The special meeting ended with a 6-0 vote to direct city staff to enter an agreement with local property owner Richard Poe to reduce his bid by an additional $600,000, mostly by slashing leasing rates he will charge to the county. The move follows a unanimous vote March 5 to loan Poe $1 million to help beat the Concord bid. Contra Costa County supervisors are expected to take up the matter at their Tuesday meeting.
"Richmond is in distinct danger of losing the call center, and its 220 good-paying jobs open to those with a high school degree, to a competing bid from Concord," Councilman Jim Rogers wrote in an email to his council colleagues Friday. "It is extremely likely that a majority of the supervisors will pick the Concord site, which is more centrally located, and closer to their districts, unless the Richmond bid is substantially cheaper."
Councilman Jael Myrick said during Monday's meeting that the move was a good use of public funds.
"It's not a giveaway, it's a loan," Myrick said. "This will make it harder for the board of supervisors to justify choosing Concord."
The new agreement drives Richmond's bid down to about $1.8 million over three years, more than $2.4 million less than the initial bid from the owners of the Concord site.
Monday's vote cuts Poe's bid by another $600,000, which Rogers said will be done by guaranteeing $1 million in loans and Poe taking on a greater portion of the cost to upgrade cubicles in his building to meet county standards.
Rogers said the city has to have a much lower bid to get the site.
"Two bids in the same ballpark is a losing game for us," Rogers said.
Several public speakers Monday agreed, saying the city needed to do all it can to secure the new center, which could mean millions in wages for local residents in the coming years.
But not all residents are comfortable with the risks.
"What happens when the call center comes to the end of its useful life after three years and they move out?" resident Barry Nel asked in an email. "(The Council) does not have the right to play fast and loose with hard earned taxpayers' money."
Supervisor John Gioia, who represents West County and Richmond, has said the Richmond site is better-suited to the criteria established by the state, but the other four supervisors have remained noncommittal or shown preference to Concord.
The state selected Contra Costa County in January as a site for one of three call centers aimed at supporting eligibility and enrollment efforts of state-level Affordable Care Act programs. Richmond was the early favorite for the site, and county supervisors voted unanimously to search for a site in San Pablo, Pittsburg or Richmond -- which have the highest unemployment rates in the county -- as part of their effort to land the call center.
But some supervisors soon favored Concord, where another potential site exists. Both property owners, Poe in Richmond and the Garaventa family in Concord, are major political donors.
On March 5, Richmond's council voted unanimously to help Poe cut his bid by $1,012,545 by giving him a 25-year loan of Richmond public funds to erect 200 cubicles in the building, eliminating the need for state funds to finance the construction.
The owner of the Concord site, Garaventa Enterprises, is expected to submit another reduced bid before Tuesday's vote, Myrick said.