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Santa Rosa to settle another rental property lapse

For three years Santa Rosa has been undercharging a preschool that rents a city-owned building in Northwest Community Park.

Instead of the $750 called for in its lease, the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County has been paying the city just $600 per month for use of the Marlow Road facility.

The lease is the latest example of the city undercharging — or in some cases charging nothing — for rental of city owned property.

A new lease with the group requiring it to pay the full $750 — but not the back rent — heads to the City Council today.

The Willow Creek Child Care Center, which serves mostly low-income children, has operated in a corner of the park since 1999. The city charged the center just $1 per year until the previous operator went out of business in May of 2007.

Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County reopened the center two months later, signing a three-year lease in July of 2007 for $600 per month. After June 30, 2010, the lease was supposed to become a “holdover tenancy” paying a month-to-month lease of 125 percent of the old rent, or $750.

But staff in the city's Parks and Recreation Department misinterpreted the lease as having expired, and instead issued the organization a permit to continue renting the building for $600 per month, said Nanette Smejkal, the department's new director.

“It was kind of our error,” Smejkal said.

A closer review of the contract performed over the summer by the city attorney's office as part of a broader review of the leases of city buildings revealed the “holdover” provision, Smejkal said.

The non-profit Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County, also known as 4Cs, operates 10 preschools in Sonoma County.

In a letter to the city last month the group's finance director, Maya Labourdette, apologized for the “oversight.” But she said it would be a “considerable hardship” for the organization to repay the back rent of $5,400.

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