Lawsuit filed to stop planned sale of state buildings

November 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to help California's bottom line by selling state owned buildings is facing new criticism. A prominent Bay Area attorney Tuesday filed suit to block the sale of 24 buildings that sit on 11 pieces of property around the state. Critics say the sale is a bad deal for taxpayers. Supporters say the state really doesn't have a better choice.

In San Francisco, the buildings included in the sale are the home of the California Supreme Court on McAllister, the state office building on Golden Gate and the Public Utilities Commission building on Van Ness. In Oakland, the state office building was also part of the deal, along with state buildings in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

The sale would raise as much as $1.3 billion this year, but taxpayers would have to pay $1.4 billion to rent the buildings back over the next 35 years.

Tuesday, South Bay attorney Joe Cotchett filed a lawsuit calling the sale unconstitutional.

"And the governor over in the executive branch can't sell the Supreme Court, it can't sell the court of appeals, it can't sell a superior court, it has no right under the constitution to do this," Cotchett said.

Cotchett argues the government cannot sell off the other non court buildings because it represents an unconstitutional gift of public assets.

The head of the San Francisco State Building Authority thought it was a bad idea, but he was fired after objecting to the sale. The governor replaced him with former Republican Assm. Mike DeNunzio.

"Who has come up with a better deal?" DeNunzio asked. "I saw in the paper Mayor Willie Brown, who I have a great respect for, call it a dumb deal, has he come up with a better plan?"

DeNunzio admits it is not a great deal for taxpayers, but the state is in a crisis. Lawmakers in Sacramento do not have a choice; state Treasurer Bill Lockyer says the legislature should have considered even difficult cuts in education, healthcare and prisons rather than selling.

"That's the problem, they don't know how to cut those things," he said. "It's not easy, I'm not saying it's easy, but this is a really bad idea."

Cotchett's office hopes to win an injunction against the sale of the buildings within the next couple of weeks. Attorney Anne Marie Murphy from Cotchett's office thinks the entire case could be heard and decided within the next six months.

More: Read the official statement from Mike Denunzio, president of the San Francisco State Building Authority


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