Gavilan trustees talk about the move in May during a press conference at the Hollister Municipal Airport.
music in the park san jose

The San Martin Lions Club and Community Hall will likely lose
its home on Murphy Avenue as the Santa Clara County Board of
Supervisors prepare to discuss and possibly vote Tuesday on leasing
the building and property to Gavilan College’s aviation program as
a workshop.
The San Martin Lions Club and Community Hall will likely lose its home on Murphy Avenue as the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors prepare to discuss and possibly vote Tuesday on leasing the building and property to Gavilan College’s aviation program as a workshop.

Since the hall is on county-owned land, funded in part by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and is on South County Airport property it’s supposed to be used for aviation purposes. The county also argues renting the 6,000-square-foot meeting hall to the Lions Club is no longer viable.

Some San Martin residents are disappointed over the county’s decision to move forward with the Gavilan lease. They say Supervisor Don Gage supported their efforts for the 27 years that the Lions Club has managed the building, which its members built brick by brick in 1982.

The Lions pour nearly $100,000 into San Martin, Morgan Hill and Gilroy thanks entirely to its Wednesday-night bingo game that attracts about 180 people each week. The center is the town’s meeting place for CalFire, the San Martin Neighborhood Alliance, political campaigns and debates, and its rented by nonprofit groups at a low cost.

Lions Club president Robert Caballero said Gage is turning his back on the community to turn a profit for the county that is knee-deep in a $223 million deficit; he points to Gage’s term limit as his loss of backbone on what he promised them years ago.

Gage said the Lions Club has known since 2004 – the year it entered a month-to-month lease from first a 10-year lease then two 5-year leases – that the day would come when the Lion’s would need to move to make room for aviation-related use.

“I’ve helped them since 1997,” Gage said, referring to the year he took office as District 1 supervisor. “We have a $223 million deficit, we can’t just give property away.”

The county recommends leasing the property to Gavilan because it “would help the airport become more self-sustaining financially. It would also be advantageous to have a tenant that is aviation related, presents minimal community impacts and furthers the academic mission of an educational institution.”

The Lions Club signed a lease with the county in 1984 at the rate of $1 a year for 20 years. The lease was amended in 2004 to increase rent to $100 on a month-to-month basis with the understanding the county could move the Lions out with a 30-day notice.

The most recent fair-market appraisal of the five-acre property was $4,500 per month in February 2004. The county has arranged for an appraisal to update the figures. The Lions say they would pay $1,500 a month in rent or about $1 per square foot for the hall.

Since 1984, the Lions have been responsible for all maintenance, including a new roof that cost $40,000 and sprinkler system at $15,000, Caballero said Wednesday amid the buzz of the weekly bingo game.

“We’ve never asked (the county) for a cent,” Lions Club treasurer Don van Straaten added.

Gavilan has been in discussions with the county since May when its aviation program was booted in from its home since 1964 at the Hollister Municipal Airport. Hollister leaders decided to raise the rent by nearly $7,000 per month.

The college looked at fair-market rates and the ability to grow its program over time before it made the decision to leave Hollister and move to the South County Airport, trustee Deb Smith said May 27.

The board of supervisors will need a four-fifths vote to authorize Gavilan to negotiate a lease agreement with the county. That decision is expected Tuesday. The lease will need final approval from the board, which will likely happen in August.

“There’s nothing down here in South County. We took a ride around town Monday and there aren’t any buildings,” van Straaten said. “(The county) haven’t helped us at all (to find a new home). This is why this gets used so much.”

The Lions rent the building to nonprofit groups for $225 used mostly for cleaning fees and utilities.

“We make a lot of money, we’re not going to give it all away in paying rent,” van Straaten said. Gage said the Lions were offered another long-term lease in 2004 at the fair market value at that time of $4,500 a month, which they refused because it was too high for a nonprofit group, they said.

The building isn’t up to code and would need so much retrofitting that it would cost the county more in repairs and updates than it would make in rent, Caballero said. Try to put two plugs into the building’s 220 volt outlets and it blows a fuse, he said. In its recommendation, the county requires Gavilan to pay for any alterations of improvements and they must be approved by staff in advance.

The Lions said they researched installing a new electrical system, but PG&E assessed the price at $45,000 for underground lines and updates.

“If it’s fair, we’ll pay it. If it’s blatantly inflated then it’s a whole other story,” Caballero said. The Lions and other San Martin community members are feeling scorned now because they were not offered a chance at paying rent this time around.

“I understand the county wanting that property to be profitable, but at whose expense? The county citizens and voters that use the facility? Or the many nonprofit organizations that use it day in and day out to try to make South County a better place to raise our families?” Local Activist Swanee Edwards wrote in an e-mail to the board of supervisors and community stakeholders.

After 27 years in the building – cleaning, maintaining and the thousands they have injected back into the county – the Lions expected at least that much respect.

The rural farming town of 5,000 has benefited from the Lions Clubs’ efforts.

In the last two years the Lions Club donated $25,000 to San Martin/Gwinn School, including $10,000 for a new marquee, $4,000 for backpacks and supplies for needy children, $7,000 for new fencing and $2,000 to the library, said Lions member Alan Black. They have also donated thousands to Rebekah’s Children’s Services in Gilroy that helps neglected children in Gilroy Unified School District. CalFire and nearly a dozen other groups use the facility for meetings and training several times per month.

“We get to move on from here to a new place we can afford and we know we are going to have quality education, and we will probably provide for more students,” Gavilan trustee Tom Breen said last month. “We are one of the few that are remaining and we intend to continue to provide and to meet the needs of the aviation industry.”

The program, which currently has 10 students enrolled, could grow when it is closer to San Jose, the trustees said.

Gage said no one is questioning that the Lions are helping the community, but he has to look out for the county, he said.

“I can understand their situation, but I can’t sympathize with them,” Gage said.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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