Palo Alto city officials are exploring an alternative funding plan that would avoid putting a new public safety building up for a public vote.
The idea is to use "certificates of participation" -- essentially a loan against future city revenues -- to finance the project instead of asking voters to approve a major bond measure.
Using certificates wouldn't require a public vote, but the city would acquire debt and would need to dedicate a source of revenue to pay for the building, Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats told the council. The council voted unanimously to direct staff to investigate the feasibility of using certificates.
A recent survey showed that a new public safety building, while supported by a 57 percent majority of voters, would fall short of winning the two-thirds majority needed. Officials also fear adding in a public-safety building bond measure might threaten a measure needed for improvements and expansion for the city's aging libraries, as well as compete with a school-district bond measure.
The council also voted unanimously (with Councilman Peter Drekmeier not present for the vote) to move ahead with acquiring the 1.3-acre site on Park Boulevard, approving a $10.9 million option-to-purchase plan that includes a $436,000 down payment Monday night. The city owes 18 monthly installments of $36,333 beginning in December 2008 and culminating in April 2010. The money is nonrefundable but counts toward the purchase, Assistant Public Works Director Mike Sartor said.
"A new public safety building is an absolute necessity," said Ray Bacchetti, a Blue Ribbon Task Force member who voiced the views of nearly everyone present Monday.
The council also unanimously approved the environmental report documenting the effects of constructing the 50,000-square-foot, three-story facility, currently owned by Essex Park Boulevard, LLC.
Two new details about the project's financing emerged Monday.
First, the total cost estimate has risen from $45 million to $61 million, including the $10.9 million purchase of the land, Sartor said. The increase is primarily due to rising construction costs, he said.
Second, the council approved removal if necessary of an aged oak tree bordering the Park Boulevard property, which would be taken down as part of the project. The city will try to save the tree, but it might die, City Attorney Gary Baum said, basing his conclusions on an arborist report that disclosed significant areas of internal rot and other problems with the sprawling tree.
In addition to the tree's physical condition, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said the department considers the tree a security risk because it could offer someone access to or views into the building.
The department's current quarters behind the Civic Center are cramped and not in compliance with evidence-processing, storage or prisoner holding laws. The quarters are also not seismically sound and they lack proper ventilation and electrical systems, according to city staff.
Shortcomings have been noted for at least 20 years, although the effort to replace the building grew more serious in December 2005 when the Blue Ribbon Task Force was created, the latest of several such task forces over the years.
The community task force selected the Park Boulevard site as the best location for a new facility, which will house emergency dispatchers and serve as a police headquarters.
The city hopes to have the building "green certified" as either silver or gold, according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a "green building" classification system.
In other business Monday night, the council:
-- Voted unanimously to ask city staff kick-off the formal process for the closing the city landfill and opening the final phase of Byxbee Park.
"Now is the time for our generation to fulfill the beautiful vision the Hargreaves designers brought to us," Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said, referring to the designers of the eventually 140-acre landfill-turned-park: Hargreaves Landscape Architects and Planners. Thirty acres of completed park are already open to the public.
A series of projects, progressing independently, are facing the council, but they haven't been presented as a cohesive plan for the area, Kishimoto, and council members Peter Drekmeier and Dena Mossar wrote in a memo to the council.
The Planning and Community Environment Department is updating the Baylands Master Plan; City Auditor Sharon Erickson has raised concerns about the accuracy of the landfill's grading plans and the location of dedicated parkland; the Public Works Department is planning for the landfill closure and searching for an alternate spot for a small locate a smaller drop-off recycling and composting operation; and Byxbee Park's second phase needs to be designed.
Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison said she will provide the council with a timeline and budget projection for the comprehensive review on Dec. 3.