Citrus Heights Sentinel Logo

Citrus Heights council votes to keep option open to buy blighted home

Home, Mariposa Ave., Old Auburn Road
The run-down home at the corner of Mariposa Avenue and Old Auburn Road in Citrus Heights is being considered for purchase by the city. // CH Sentinel

Sentinel staff report–
Following a closed-door meeting on Thursday, the Citrus Heights City Council voted unanimously to halt the public auction of two tax-defaulted properties and authorize the city manager to negotiate their purchase from Sacramento County for a total price of less than $50,000.

The properties include a 3-acre lot with a boarded-up home on Old Auburn Road and a portion of an old gas station on Auburn Boulevard, both of which were slated to be auctioned by the county next month for back-taxes owed.

Vice Mayor Jeannie Bruins told The Sentinel on Friday that the vote was a formality needed to preserve the city’s option to purchase the properties, by removing them from the sale at a county tax auction slated for Feb. 26.

“No decision about actual purchases were made last night,” said Bruins. “Just the decision to take it off the auction block so we have time to figure out what our options are.”

The city council’s Jan. 25 agenda listed both a closed session to negotiate “price and terms of payment” with the county for the two properties, followed by a public meeting where a resolution to oppose the public auction of the properties and authorize negotiation for their purchase was unanimously approved. Bruins said she could not comment on what was discussed during the closed session.

Although the vice mayor and city staff were careful to say the city did not vote to purchase the two properties, the wording of the resolution passed on Thursday says the city council “instructs the city manager to formally inform the county that the city wishes to purchase all of 7716 Old Auburn Road, and a portion of 8244 Auburn Boulevard.” The resolution also authorizes the city manager to “enter into sales agreement negotiations with the county, with a net purchase limit of $46,500.”

Stephanie Cotter, with the city’s community and economic development department, told the council in a staff report during the public portion of the meeting that the city was not committing itself to the purchase of the properties, but the vote was needed “in order to preserve our option to purchase the properties through a Chapter 8 tax sale.” Under the state tax code, cities have a right to acquire a tax-defaulted property “that is or may be needed for public use,” by filing an objection to the sale and submitting an application to purchase — which then causes the property to be removed from public auction.

The low purchase price of $46,500 is based off of minimum bids listed for the properties by the Sacramento County Tax Collector’s office, which set a price of $22,300 for the Old Auburn Road property and $150,000 for the Auburn Boulevard lot. Since the city is seeking to acquire only a portion of the second lot, an appraisal of $24,200 was determined for the portion sought.

Although the city can withdraw its application to purchase the properties at any time, a staff report included in Thursday’s city council agenda packet says “the city would be required to reimburse the tax collector for providing notice, publication, and actual costs incurred for preparing and conducting the Chapter 8 agreement sale for the properties.”

Following the vote, staff will now conduct a thorough assessment of the properties and titles. The properties can also still be redeemed by the owners or heirs, but the County Tax Collector’s office told The Sentinel earlier this month that an extended search for an heir regarding the home on Old Auburn Road has been unsuccessful.

The home’s owner, James Wheeler, passed away inside the residence last year and is believed to have been an only child who did not have children.

Future intended use
Cotter told the council that staff are “not exactly sure the city can purchase them for a public purpose,” but she said Thursday’s vote allowed the city to get “a foot in the door” to keep the option to purchase open and prevent the sale at auction.

General intended use for the property was listed in Thursday’s staff report, stating a goal “to remediate the existing blight and to be used for infrastructure improvements and preservation of open space.” Beyond that, city staff have not detailed a more specific purpose, although Councilman Jeff Slowey alluded to plans to widen Old Auburn Road.

“This isn’t an attempt by the council to start consolidating parcels throughout the city,” said Slowey, addressing the audience while the public agenda portion was being discussed. “If you look at the two roads that these properties are located on — one is Auburn, the other is Old Auburn — we actually have plans on both of those roads for future widening, if you will, improvements.”

Slowey’s comment referenced the second phase of improvements along Auburn Boulevard near the Roseville border, as well as a $190,000 grant from Caltrans to help develop a plan for improving the stretch of Old Auburn Road from Sylvan Corners to Fair Oaks Boulevard.

“So at the end of the day, any time the city gets involved in widening or road improvements, we’re actually having to negotiate with the property owners to buy easements along the front,” said Slowey. “So rather than do it down in the future, because these two are in tax sale, there’s an opportunity for us to do it now, so that’s really what we’re doing.”

In comments to The Sentinel on Friday Bruins said, if the property is acquired, the remaining portion of the 2.7-acre Old Auburn Road property not needed for potential roadway improvements could be sold, or used as a greenbelt or another public purpose.

Want to share your thoughts on this story? Click here to submit a letter to the editor for publication.

Like local news? Sign up for The Sentinel’s free email edition and get two emails a week with all local news and no spam, ever. (Click here)