SB 339, a bill authored by Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) to ease the redevelopment of the decommissioned Castle Air Force Base (Castle), will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Following the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, Merced County has been hampered in their ability to work with companies that want to relocate to the former base.
“The land at the former Castle Air Force Base is a tremendous asset to Merced County and can provide much-needed jobs for the region,” said Cannella. “Redevelopment agencies were more than just funding mechanisms for redevelopment, providing different regulations and allowing greater flexibility to spur development. The state should be doing all it can to cut regulation to assist counties in continuing their redevelopment progress.”
The Local Agency Military Base Recovery Area program was replaced by the Merced County Regional Enterprise Zone after Castle was decommissioned. Prior to the elimination of redevelopment agencies, Merced County was able to utilize statutory authority to conduct sales of property at Castle without going through a public auction process. When redevelopment agencies were eliminated in 2011, this authority was also eliminated.
Closed military bases present unique challenges and burdens on local governments, and counties hosting them can benefit from special legislative consideration to ensure maximum flexibility to improve the facilities and attract investors. Castle has substantial infrastructure needs that the County cannot afford to make; the best option for the County is to seek investors who are willing to make those improvements as part of their investment in Castle. If Merced must utilize the public auction process, investors have indicated their hesitancy to invest or to pursue business development, as they are not assured of being the winning bidder.
SB 339 would provide assurance and surety to interested buyers, while preserving the public interest. Any sales contract would still be vetted in a public manner at the board of supervisors.
“We have already had companies choose not to do business with the County as a result of the bidding process which is viewed as unfriendly to business,” said Merced County Supervisor Linn Davis. “I really appreciate Senator Cannella’s work to ease development at Castle. Companies want to relocate here and Merced County could use the jobs.”