RICHMOND -- City and business leaders unveiled a new plan Tuesday to woo Contra Costa County supervisors to choose Richmond as the site of a coveted new health exchange call center, one of three facilities statewide that will help people navigate the federal Affordable Care Act.
The City Council unanimously approved a plan to loan the proposed Richmond site's developer $1 million to equip his building, provide training for employees through a city-run program and send a letter to state officials urging them to not subsidize a more expensive site in Concord.
"This is a chess move against Concord," Councilman Jael Myrick said. "This can put us in position to say 'checkmate.'"
Meanwhile, the Concord City Council on Tuesday extolled its proposed site during its public meeting, noting that its central location and nearby BART station made the site a closer option for potential workers in east and central county. The council also authorized city staff to initiate talks with the state to tout its site, a move the Richmond council made one week before.
In January, the state selected Contra Costa County 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 an early front-runner for the site. In December, the board of 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 its effort to land the call center.
But several board members soon opted to explore other options, particularly Concord, where another suitable site exists.
At stake for both cities is a call center that could provide more than 200 jobs.
According to a county staff report released in late February, the cost to occupy the proposed site at 1450 Marina Way South in Richmond would be $3.4 million over three years, compared with $4.25 million at the Concord site, 2500 Bates Ave.
Despite the savings, the board appeared likely to approve the Concord site before labor talks stalled, and it postponed a vote scheduled for Feb. 26.
With the issue likely to come back before the board on March 12, Richmond leaders met with the developer, Richard Roe, on March 1 to craft a sweeter deal.
"We have to make (the county) an offer they can't refuse," Councilman Jim Rogers said before Tuesday's meeting.
The boldest move in Richmond's package is to help Poe, the owner of the site, cut his bid by $1,012,545 by giving him a 25-year loan of Richmond public funds. The money would be used to erect 200 cubicles in the building, eliminating the need for state funds to finance the construction, Rogers said.
"The loan would only occur if Richmond gets the call center," Rogers wrote in a staff report.
Other parts of the plan passed Tuesday include about $100,000 in training services provided to the employees who live in Richmond via the city's employment development programs, and a letter from City Manager Bill Lindsay to the state asking for written confirmation that the state will not pick up the tab should the county choose the higher bid.
Lindsay said making a loan with public funds was not unprecedented and noted that the investment was aimed at the public's benefit. He said many details, including the interest rate, were not yet determined but would come to the council for final approval.
"Whenever you make a loan, there are inherent risks," Lindsay said. "But we will get favorable terms."
The new bid, submitted by Poe on Wednesday, came in at $2.4 million, more than $1.8 million lower than the initial bid for the Concord site. The owner of the Concord site, Garaventa Enterprises, is expected to submit its own reduced bid.