The council also agreed to pursue renovating the Main and Downtown libraries and stick to plans to place both the police and library issues on the June 2008 ballot -- for now, at least.
The council's move Monday night sustains momentum for the projects, which didn't garner the necessary two-thirds approval in a city-sponsored poll of 600 residents in February.
The library project received 63 percent approval in the survey, while only 57 percent of respondents indicated they would likely vote for the police headquarters, which is planned for Page Mill Road and Park Boulevard.
A combined Mitchell Park library and community center is expected to cost between $31.5 and $44 million. Estimates for Main Library renovations range from $9.5 to $13.5 million, while the Downtown Library needs about $5 million worth of work, according to a consultant's estimates.
The police headquarters is expected to cost $50 million.
The projects, particularly the public safety building, are so important the city needs to work toward funding them even though the public isn't completely supportive yet, city leaders said Monday.
"These are not projects that are nice-to-dos at this time. These are needed facilities," former councilwoman and mayor Lanie Wheeler said.
Although the council expressed unanimous support for the projects, each member offered a different strategy for achieving the goals of an improved library system and a police headquarters capable of surviving a disaster.
At the request of Councilman John Barton to stay as flexible as possible, the council didn't vote to frame the projects as a single measure or two distinct measures on a single ballot.
Barton persuaded his colleagues that preserving the council's unity and the city's options trumped the benefits of selecting a specific strategy now.
A single measure is thought to help the police headquarters, the less popular project, while making it less likely the library improvements will pass.
Vice Mayor Larry Klein called the current police facilities "obsolete and dangerous."
He said it would be wise to tell the voters what the city needs and then vow to refrain from supporting other taxes or bonds for a set number of years.
"It's important to present a whole package so they know where things are going," Klein said.
Councilman Peter Drekmeier said he thought the city should pursue a ballot measure for the library only, even though the police headquarters is the more important project.
There will need to be some kind of "crisis before the community rallies behind that, unfortunately," Drekmeier said.
"I'd like to see it all happen, but realistically I think we need to go for what we really can get."
But Councilwoman Dena Mossar pointed out that public safety is the city's most basic function.
"I think (the public safety building) is our first priority," Mossar said. "The library is just gravy."
Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said she would like staff to develop a back-up plan for financing the police headquarters if a bond measure doesn't pass. No one else supported her idea, however.
The implementation of the bond measures will be up to the next council, which will have four new members, several council members pointed out.
Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell suggested the community use the projects as a "litmus test" for new candidates.
Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg challenged her colleagues to aim for a "really special" project that will generate community enthusiasm.
"I don't know how excited I would be about 'practical,'" Kleinberg said. "I think we ought to stretch a little bit."
Although the city's polling consultant recommended placing the measures on the November 2008 ballot to allow for an extensive educational campaign, the council agreed Monday to stick to its original June 2008 schedule.
Competition from national issues will overwhelm Palo Alto's efforts in November, Kleinberg said.
About 30 library supporters gathered in the chambers, wearing bright yellow "L" stickers.
Penny Ellson likened the current effort to past civic projects led by leaders with foresight.
"It's high time we started looking forward and doing what our predecessors did for us," Ellson said.
Rachel Bell and her husband told the council they voted for the last bond measures in 1956 and look forward to expressing their support again in 2008.
City staff will return to the council in coming weeks with contracts for an educational effort estimated at $70,000 to $100,000 and additional library designs and plans for about $1 million, City Manager Frank Benest said.
In other business, Sanford Forte, John Stucky and Susie Thom were elected to the Library Advisory Commission.