Barely restraining themselves from opining on the need for a new police headquarters, Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission members -- tasked with commenting on a draft environmental report Wednesday -- said there might be more than two building configurations worth examining.
The report presents two options for the 50,000-square-foot building proposed for the intersection of Park Boulevard, Page Mill Road and Oregon Expressway, a site selected by city leaders in June 2006. It is officially being called the "public safety building" because it would house the city's emergency dispatch and an emergency operations center in addition to the city's police department.
Public comments on the report will be accepted until next Wednesday.
Option A would occupy 1.5 acres and require felling a 100-plus-year-old valley oak tree and digging into contaminated soil to build an underground parking garage. The city would have to purchase two parcels -- an L-shaped 1.2-acre lot and a .3-acre parcel with a small office building and the tree.
It would also add at least $5 million to the cost because of the underground parking and the need to purchase two parcels, not to mention the additional analysis and compensation required if the tree is removed, Assistant Director of Public Works Mike Sartor has said previously.
Option B would use only the L-shaped lot, but have a three-story above-ground parking structure. Sartor said the parking structure could also be built if both lots were acquired.
Commissioner Samir Tuma asked why the report doesn't consider using the entire 1.5-acres with no underground parking.
It should also consider a variety of other configurations of the design, Commissioner Arthur Keller said. Commissioner Paula Sandas also expressed interest in other design alternatives.
With near unanimity, present and past city leaders say the city needs a seismically safe, adequately sized and up-to-date police/public safety facility. Cost estimates are currently in the $50 million range as the city races against inflation in the cost of building materials.
The state-mandated impact report examines ramifications of building a new police headquarters, which would include a communications hub and emergency operations center at 2785 and 2747 Park Boulevard. The city does not yet own the land but is conducting negotiations to fix the price on the larger parcel.
The loss of the valley oak would be the only effect of the project that couldn't be worked around, the report states. It can either be left as it is or incorporated in the site on the larger lot, with major pruning of about three tons of limbs and branches and shoring up.
But the tree has serious health problems and in fact rates 10 on a 12-point hazard scale, an arborist study contained in the report concluded, based on a radar analysis that showed areas of rot above and below ground. The 60-foot tree will only live another 30 years or so because of internal decay and a problematic lean, the arborist said -- if it doesn't fall over. Construction around the tree could shorter its life, the study states.
Peter Lockhart, a landscape designer based on Olive Avenue, called the potential destruction of the tree "a travesty.
"It speaks to me in many ways, some very quietly. I think there must be some way to preserve and protect this tree," Lockhart said. He later said he had not known the tree was not robust.
Neighbor Kirsten Flynn also argued for preserving the tree, noting it would absorb pollutants and noise, and ensuring Park Boulevard remains safe for bicycles and pedestrians.
But she said she would welcome the police facility to the neighborhood.
"If those concerns are addressed, I'm gung ho," she said.
Margarita Avenue-resident Deborah Trilling said she would prefer a shorter building and said a bike path between the Ventura neighborhood and California Avenue is "essential."
The commission also learned the project may be built to a more-rigid "green" building standard -- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a gold rather than silver standard, according to Senior Engineer Elizabeth Ames.
The Planning Commission and City Council are expected to discuss the final report in November. The council could select a favored design at that time, Ames said.
The council is scheduled to decide early in 2008 whether to place a $50 million bond measure to finance the project on the June or November 2008 ballots. Several studies over the past two decades have cited the need for a new police/public safety building because the present police headquarters behind the City Hall in downtown Palo Alto is severely overcrowded.
In addition, the dispatch and emergency operations centers are below City Hall -- considered vulnerable in a major earthquake despite strengthening work in the late 1980s and following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when a large concrete arcade around the block was taken down as a hazard.
If approved by two-thirds of city voters, construction could begin in spring 2010 and the department hopes to move in by spring 2011, according to the report.
A copy of the report is available at the Main, Mitchell Park or Downtown libraries or on the fifth or sixth floors of City Hall at 250 Hamilton Avenue.
To comment, contact Senior Engineer Elizabeth Ames at email@example.com or at the City of Palo Alto, Public Works Engineering Division, 250 Hamilton Avenue, 6th Floor, 94301. The deadline for submitting public comments is Aug. 29.