A Santa Rosa food pantry threatened with eviction from its longtime home in an aging city building won a brief reprieve from the City Council on Tuesday.

F.I.S.H. -- Friends In Service Here -- will be allowed to remain for at least another six months in the Benton Street building it has enjoyed rent-free from the city since 1995.

Under terms of a lease approved by the council, the nonprofit group will be allowed to remain in the former fire station through the end of the year, after which the lease will become month-to-month.

The extension was granted in an effort to give the group additional time to raise money to either make needed repairs to the building, buy the building from the city, or move to a new location.

"A six-month extension is magnificent!" F.I.S.H. director Jean Marie Jones said after the meeting. "But we still have the problem."

The problem is that the 2,400-square-foot building doesn't comply with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city needs to upgrade numerous buildings by the end of 2013, and city staff needed to know whether the council wanted to spend the $150,000 to install the ramps, railing and bathrooms need to bring the building up to code.

All agreed that it wasn't worth it for the city to spend that kind of money – plus an additional $200,000 in maintenance over the next five years -- on a building that was worth perhaps only $340,000.

But they couldn't agree on what to do with the structure. Councilman Gary Wysocky argued that the cost of the upgrades made the building basically worthless, and suggested the council should just give it to the group.

Councilman Jake Ours argued that the value of the property was in the land and that shouldn't be gifted to a group no matter what good they do in the community.

"I could never support just giving something like this away," Ours said.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler agreed that the city couldn't just give the property to F.I.S.H., but would have to offer it to other groups, as well.

Dozens of supporters, holding signs like "Hear our fish story" and "Let fish stay," attended the meeting and many urged the council to find a creative solution to the problem.

The all-volunteer operation, which was founded in 1973, handed out food to nearly 64,000 people in 16,000 households last year, 40 percent of whom were children.

Oakmont resident and F.I.S.H. volunteer Ed Sutter said only an "idiot" could conclude the building needed $350,000 in upgrades. Several others suggested the work could be done more cheaply by the group with volunteer labor. He pleaded with the council to stop thinking of the decision in financial terms.

"This is not a question of land or buildings. This is a question of people," Sutter said. "We're people helping people, and you guys are just people, and I know you can help us."

You can reach Staff WriterKevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.