MARTINEZ -- The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors chose Concord over Richmond for a new state health benefit exchange call center and its 204 jobs at the end of a heated, 4½-hour public hearing Friday night.
Supervisors Federal Glover, of Pittsburg; Mary Nejedly Piepho, of Discovery Bay; and Karen Mitchoff, of Pleasant Hill, endorsed the Concord building at 2500 Bates Ave., a former Comcast call center owned by the Garaventa family.
Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, pushed hard but unsuccessfully for his hometown, while Supervisor Candace Andersen, of Danville, expressed serious concerns about the financial risk to the county for a call center in any location.
The fate of the seemingly doomed call center has hung in the balance for weeks as the county wrangled with the four public employee labor unions that will represent the new workers, finally reaching a settlement this week.
Conquering that hurdle left the county to sign a contract with the state and choose a location.
Both tasks have proved equally difficult. Covered California, the health benefit exchange, demanded the county make a decision on the center by Friday or it would take the jobs elsewhere.
As the public meeting stretched into the evening, both landowners wheeled and dealed -- Richmond businessman Richard Poe even sent a lower bid via telephone from Hawaii, where he is on vacation -- as mayors and council members from each region fiercely lobbied for their communities.
The state wants the cheapest option, but the bottom-line cost flip-flopped depending on whether the state would insist on $1 million worth of new furniture or accept existing cubicles in the Concord building.
"Do you want to gamble with $1 million, because that's what you are doing," Gioia asked his colleagues. "Where in the budget will you find $1 million if the state says it won't accept the existing cubicles?"
Poe got on the wrong side of the supervisors, too, after he switched buildings in his bid. He apparently offered 1450 Marina Way to another tenant after the supervisors voted Tuesday to abandon the call center, and when it was revived, he substituted his building next door.
Each side offered free rent. One of Concord's options totaled 21 months' worth.
But both communities clearly wanted the jobs.
"You are doing this because of the jobs," said Pittsburg Mayor Nancy Parent. "If you include Bay Point, Pittsburg, Antioch and the rest of East County, they are struggling, and there are more of them than there are in West County. If you add Concord, there are even more. If you want to put the center where there are more people to help you, Concord is closer."
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin reminded the supervisors of the city's promised $1 million loan to the business owner, plus training.
"We are extremely committed to having this call center, and we urge you to choose Richmond," McLaughlin said.
Earlier, during the public hearing, supervisors heard their top staffers express serious concerns about putting the county's general fund at risk if Covered California were to exercise the 30-day cancellation clause or evoke other terms that raise concerns.
The state refused to budget on the clauses, the staff said.
"There is a significant risk to the county general fund under these conditions," said Contra Costa Employment and Human Services Director Kathy Gallagher. County Assistant Administrator Terry Speiker concurred.