The developer who filed a $67 million breach of contract suit against Riverside County said today said officials failed to treat the company "reasonably and fairly."
Bruce Keeton, managing partner of French Valley Business Center LLC, alleged the county decided in early 2009 to withhold building permits for the development of 10 acres where it planned to build offices for the district attorney and public defender.
This caused the contractor to default on agreements with subcontractors and abandon an otherwise viable enterprise.
"Both sides in a public-private partnership have a responsibility to deal fairly and reasonably with each other," Keeton said. "We performed our agreements. Unfortunately, Riverside County has not."
Emails seeking comment from county Public Information Officer Ray Smith were not immediately answered.
The French Valley Business Center, a partnership between Keeton, who runs Keeton Construction Co. Inc., and David Phares, owner of D.L. Phares & Associates, received lease rights from the county in February 2006 to a 37-acre tract near French Valley Airport.
The spot was considered a choice location for construction of new offices. At the time, the agencies were under pressure from the state to vacate long-occupied space at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.
Without seeking any competitive bids, the Board of Supervisors selected French Valley Business Center to undertake the project.
According to county officials, the plan was for the developer to acquire private financing, and when the office complex was complete, the county would lease back the property for the next 50 years.
In the fall of 2008, representatives from the French Valley Business Center notified the county that because of the economic downturn, obtaining loans was proving difficult, leading to inevitable delays in construction.
The Board of Supervisors gave the real estate concern until the
beginning of 2009 to secure funding to proceed with a scaled-down version of the original project, using 10 acres instead of 37.
According to the lawsuit, in March 2009, French Valley Business Center's applications for building permits were denied by the county, which stated that the developer missed a February deadline to apply.
The plaintiffs argue the only deadline they were aware of fell on April 1, 2009.
"We were given no notice of this secret deadline (of Feb. 1, 2009)," Keeton said.
The county settled on an alternate relocation plan for personnel from the district attorney's and public defender's offices.
The French Valley Business Center filed suit in 2010 in Orange County Superior Court. On April 28, a judge rejected the county's request for summary dismissal and tentatively set a Nov. 28 trial date.