News

Private funds may help solve public-safety dilemma

Palo Alto City Council to consider a partnership with Jay Paul Company to build new police headquarters

Palo Alto's long and winding voyage to replace its cramped police headquarters took a new turn Wednesday night when city officials unveiled a proposal by a commercial developer to help build a new facility as part of a bid to construct an office building on Page Mill Road.

Jay Paul Company, a San Francisco-based developer that focuses on commercial real estate, has made a pitch to help Palo Alto build a new public-safety building -- a project that city officials have been pursuing for longer than a decade without success. Palo Alto's existing police headquarters at City Hall has been found to be too small, seismically shaky, and functionally obsolete by a wide array of city officials, consultants and citizen groups. Most recently, the 17-member Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission reviewed the 24,000-square-foot headquarters and found it to be "unsafe and vulnerable."

But solutions have been tough to come by. In recent years, the city has pondered a wide array of options for the police department, from expanding its operation to the little-used mezzanine at City Hall to buying two properties on Park Boulevard. Neither possibility became a reality. The mezzanine, a dimly lit, 10,000-square-foot labyrinth filled with phone wires and utility lines, would have to be completely renovated and would still leave the police headquarters much smaller than city officials would like. They're hoping for at least 44,000 square feet.

The proposal to buy the two Park properties fizzled three years ago, when the council agreed to scrap its options to purchase the land.

Now, city officials are looking to private entities for help. Jay Paul, the developer behind the office complex at 395 Page Mill Road, has approached the city about building another major office building at the commercial site near Park, City Manager James Keene told the council Wednesday during a special retreat. The company bought the property, which was once occupied by Agilent, in 2006. It now houses AOL's Silicon Valley's headquarters.

As part of its bid to get the city's approval for the project, Jay Paul has offered to partner with the city on the new public-safety building, which has an estimated price tag of $45 million. Under the proposal, the developer would contribute land on Park and chip in about $18 million for the project, with the city paying another $18 million (the land is valued at about $9 million, according to a staff report). Jay Paul's contributions for the new police building would be considered a "public benefit" as part a "planned community" application. A planned-community zone is one in which a developer is allowed to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for negotiated public benefits.

Keene said the Jay Paul proposal would add one or more office buildings to the property at 395 Page Mill Road. The AOL building is located near the northeast corner of the lot. The new offices could be built on the northwest or southeast portions of the site, areas that are currently vacant.

The proposal would also include an underground garage next to the Page Mill Road site, near the intersection of Park Boulevard and Olive Avenue. The city's new police building would stand on top of this garage under this concept.

Keene characterized Jay Paul's proposal as a tentative concept at this point but one worth exploring.

"There is an invitation to consider something and to begin to draw a firmer conclusion as we start to know more about it," Keene told the council.

The new police-and-fire building would be somewhat different from the roughly 56,000-square-foot facility recommended by the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. The new plan calls for a smaller headquarters that would combine the administrative functions of the city's Police and Fire departments and house the new Office of Emergency Services.

Acting Public Safety Director Dennis Burns on Wednesday presented four alternatives, ranging in size from 31,738 square feet to 44,848 square feet. The smaller facilities would entail shifting functions like parking enforcement and evidence storage to off-site locations.

Burns, who heads both the police and fire departments, said one of the goals for the public-safety building is to reduce duplication of efforts in the two departments. The new building would have a shared lobby for the departments, fewer locker rooms and fewer conference rooms than would be needed if the two administrations were in separate locations.

"The intent is to design and develop a true public-safety building that capitalizes on the efficiencies and synergies of having the police and fire administrations, 911 dispatch, the Office of Emergency Services and our EOC (Emergency Operations Center) under one roof," Burns said.

The council agreed the city should continue to aggressively pursue a new public-safety building. Council members Karen Holman and Pat Burt both referred to the project as one of the city's highest priorities. But Burt also said he was concerned about focusing exclusively on the Jay Paul concept, particularly in the absence of a formal proposal.

"I'm worried we're reacting to one proposal without any ability to understand whether there are other alternatives that might be as good or better," Burt said.

But even though the proposal is still in its embryonic phase, council members agreed it's well worth considering further. The council plans to get more information about it at a special "pre-screening" session, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 4.

Councilman Larry Klein dismissed any suggestion that the city could be foregoing better private proposals by zooming in on Jay Paul's.

"There's not that many people in town who own properties that are even potential sites for this," Klein said.

Comments

Posted by Decentralized-Works-Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2012 at 7:41 am

> "The intent is to design and develop a true public-safety building that
> capitalizes on the efficiencies and synergies of having the police and
> fire administrations, 911 dispatch, the Office of Emergency Services
> and our EOC (Emergency Operations Center) under one roof," Burns said.

This seems to be the mantra of the Public Safety people—but is it really true? Have these people even remotely considered the use of video conferencing using the City's Fiber Optic system? If you visit City Hall, you typically find police/fire people talking to each other—which is kind of not the same thing as doing work.

You get the sense that the people who end up in these occupations have no imagination, and are more of a liability than an asset, when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of Public Safety in this town.


Posted by Judith, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 14, 2012 at 10:22 am

If I am having an emergency, I do not want a videoconference response, I want a person. Probably you would, too , if you thought about it.

I think many of the people having knee-jerk reactions are not aware of the seismic requirements for a public safety building, nor the state legal requirements for such things as storing evidence and having private interviews with victims, witnesses or suspects.


Posted by "Civic Engagement!", a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

Has it finally been defined! Picture this:

Police can send out the accountants across the hall to respond to emergencies, then blame those accountants when things go wrong! The public won't know the difference. Police responding/Accountants doing the police work. It's six of one, half-dozen of the other.

That way saves council the money they can use for the Retired police officers account. Sounds good to me. Wait a minute, hasn't that kind of public/private "Civic Engagement" already been done?

Where are the leaders in this community? Get real.


Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2012 at 11:19 am

Is it really better to have everything all in one place. What if that one place gets wiped out in an earthquake or other disaster?


Posted by rem, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm

rem is a registered user.

NO - NO - NO - NO - NO !!!!

Look at Jay Paul's record in the area...


Posted by Decentralized-Works-Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

> If I am having an emergency, I do not want a videoconference
> response, I want a person.

And what makes you think that the suggestion about use of video conferencing to reduce the capital costs of providing public service? The suggestion had to do with the probably false claim that there is a lot of "synergy" having the police police department, the fire department and the dog catchers all in the same building.

About half of the police departments salary base is "civilian". These are people who will not likely ever respond to a request for service in the field. These are people who are doing "god only knows what" at City Hall.

> if you thought about it.

Right back at'cha. Never hurts to take a deep breath, and re-read a posting you might not agree with a second time before hitting that "send" button.



Posted by Decentralized-Works-Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm

> Look at Jay Paul's record in the area...

Not helpful. Can you provide links to articles about Jay Paul projects that have proven to be unsafe, or failed to complete because of financing problems? Or even articles about these building projects being architecturally inappropriate, or failing to deliver basic functionality to the tenets of the buildings built by Jay Paul?



Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 14, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Why is Jay Paul offering to do this? Is it to get a zoning waiver for his property to build a larger building than allowed? Or not to have to include housing?

In any case, on the face of it sounds like a better deal for the city than the Lytton Plaza building.

Does anyone know which other buildings Jay Paul has constructed in Palo Alto, or surrounding communities. I would be interested to know more about other Jay Paul projects.


Posted by Decentralized-Works-Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Sorry .. dropped a couple of words in the first sentence ..

And what makes you think that the suggestion about use of video conferencing to reduce the capital costs of providing public service would reduce the quality of public service delivered to the community?


Posted by Decentralized-Works-Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm

The following is a link to the Jay Paul Web-site:

Web Link


Posted by who cares, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jun 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm

...another failed idea put forth by an inept city manager and equally clueless city council. Lets sell out all our city integrity to the highest bidder. Makes one wonder what the current city manager will sell to keep his $500,000+ salary and benefit package in place. Where are today's leaders on city council? What a pity.


Posted by Careful what you wishfor, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Problem with private partnerships is that when the privateers get a commitment from the city, the cost goes way up. (surprise!) Thats what happened at Lytton Plaza.


Posted by dave, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Most posters haven't a clue as to the problems with the present location of the Police services and dispatch center. Read the 2006 Blue Ribbon Committee's report on the legal and physical deficiencies of the City Hall Bldg.

A large number of the residents would vote against anything to do with police services at the previous estimate for a new building of $45 Million. Here is an opportunity to save scarce City funds. If this is not done, the State may come in and mandate compliance with the codes that are not being enforced in the present structure. Cost? At least $45 Million. Read the BRC report before throwing stones.

Burt's comment about looking at other alternatives is off the mark. Klein has it right - there are no other alternatives and haven't been for many years.


Posted by Jon, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I surely can't even guess what makes sense based on the article and the comments. Maybe we could limp along for another decade. But having a developer come up with a solution out of the blue sounds a little like Jack and the Beanstalk.


Posted by Decentralized-Works-Too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2012 at 9:38 pm

> Klein has it right - there are no other alternatives and haven't
> been for many years.

Not true. We can merge our police with that of another city, such as Mountain View, or Menlo Park, and then consider the police station in another city. There is no reason for the 911 center to be in Palo Alto, nor the EOC, for that matter.

The idea that we have to do what the imagination-limited Infrastructure Commissions is simply not true. We can rethink the police function, and begin to think in a more regional fashion.


Posted by Merge with others?, a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2012 at 11:18 am

If any other community is considered for a merger with Palo Alto, Menlo Park would be the best. From what I read, their council seems as clueless as are your nine members.

But please leave communities that are working well alone. Isolate the dysfunction. We moved from PA, to get away from the lack of leadership.


Posted by Employee and Resident , a resident of Midtown
on Jun 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

To repeat a prior post..."Lets sell out all our city integrity to the highest bidder."

At what point will the public consider the conflict of indebtedness to a private interest? Is Joe Schmoe in the apartment conmplex going to get a piece of the action?...they pay taxes too.

Face it - public enterprises are the new "natural resource" for the exploitation by private companies and contractors...and some of those contractors being retired management employees.


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