Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 21, 2006

Council praises police report, offers few specifics

June 26 vote scheduled for police building

by Bill D'Agostino

In its initial review of a task-force recommendation to rebuild the city's police headquarters, the Palo Alto City Council praised the group's report, asked a few questions but gave little indication of its feelings about the thorny political issues surrounding the $38 million to $55 million project.

The council appointed the blue-ribbon task force in December, and the 15-member group spent six months researching the project and writing its 14-page report.

After determining the need for the building — the report states it "recommends in the strongest possible terms that the City proceed expeditiously to build a new Public Safety Building" — the task force studied the size and location of the new building. It concluded it should be 49,600 square feet and be located on private land on Park Boulevard, near Page Mill Road.

Although council members praised the group's report — calling it "so logical," "compelling," "very impressive" and "superb" — they did not signify which site or size they preferred.

The council is set to vote on the proposal next Monday.

Councilman John Barton asked how many years of growth the group had planned.

The 49,600 square feet projects 20 years of growth in the personnel of the police department. Task Force Co-chair Lanie Wheeler also said the plan built in some flexible spaces, such as balconies, that could be expanded later.

As for the Park Boulevard location, Councilwoman Dena Mossar questioned whether the building should be so "isolated."

"I like having police around," she said of the current downtown location.

Mossar also asked how the city should acquire the private land. Wheeler responded the city should immediately begin negotiations with the site's two landowners.

During its meetings, the task force preliminarily discussed using eminent domain if the landowners were not interested in selling.

Three other less-preferred options for the police building include: city-owned parking lots near California Avenue and on Gilman Street near downtown or simply rebuilding on the current site. Although the city would not need to purchase the public lands, those options would be more expensive because officials would need to replace public parking or find a temporary home for the Police Department during construction.

The city has no money set aside for the project and the task force did not give a recommendation on how to secure funding. Possible options include a bond measure or a parcel tax.

"Whatever method we use, it will be expensive," Wheeler said.

The council has set aside June 2008 for any possible ballot measure to approve the funding. It's also set aside that same ballot for funding for improved library services, staff and facilities.

According to the task force, the current 40-year-old, 24,000-square-foot police headquarters on Forest Avenue is "marginally adequate." Problems include its small size, inadequate wiring and ventilation and potential inability to continue operating after a strong earthquake.

The building also houses the city's 911 call center and emergency operations center.

Former Mayor Jim Burch, who convened the task force while still on the council last year, implored current city leaders to make a decision soon so the city would not have a substandard police headquarters for much longer.

"Just do it," he said.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be reached at bdagostino@paweekly.com.

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