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City may seek bond for new public-safety facilities

Original post made on Jan 13, 2012

If a major earthquake were to strike Palo Alto tomorrow, it could render the city's police headquarters at City Hall functionally useless and topple the cramped, half-century-old fire stations at Mitchell and Rinconada parks, possibly injuring or killing their occupants.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 13, 2012, 8:40 AM

Comments (21)

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2012 at 10:14 am

As I have stated often time on this forum, infrastructure and public safety needs should be the city's top priorities when it comes to allocating public funds. However, I am deeply opposed to creating a new tax measure to accomplish these goals.

Our city leaders and elected officials must set some financial priorities and demonstrate that they have the ability to apply that when planning their budget. If the city made some difficult, but very appropriate cuts in other non-essential programs and services we may be closer to bridging that budgetary gap. Considering the current infrastructure and public safety needs, the city has to question whether or not we really need to operate so many public libraries. Should the city be embarking on, even with the influx of grant money, projects such as the 101 bike bridge, electric vehicle charging stations, golf course redesign, and upgrades to the California Avenue Business District. Many other projects involving park improvements new playground construction have to be suspended. The city also needs to examine whether or not the tax payers should continue to publicly support programs like the Children's Theater, the Lucie Stern Zoo, and various homeless outreach programs which actually serve very few people with few if any real ties to our community.

I realize that tough choices have to be made. Our city leaders and elected officials should have foreseen these vital infrastructure needs, shown some financial responsibility, and planned appropriately. It is the equivalent of someone spending all of their household money on a new car, vacations, and an addition on the house, and now find themselves unable to pay the bills, fix the leaks, and patch the roof. And now they come back to us tax payers, hands out, crying poor, and asking for money to cover their essential needs. I don't think so.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

Places we could have used for a Public Safety building:
Expand the existing building using the Downtown library
At the site of the Main Library and Art Center
Sold the College Terrace library site and used that $$ towards PS building.


We can still:
Move city hall into some existing office space in Palo Alto and use that whole space for a new building
Use some of the land at the golf course
Turn Mitchell Park into our Main Library and use that site for a satellite library and PS building

We should absolutely
Stop funding ANYTHING that is not infrastructure or public safety related for a number of years until we get caught up. There is no reason that things like the Children's Theater and the Zoo can not become self-funded thru private fundraising, ticket sales, events, etc. Unless we have a safety hazard in our parks or fields, lets hold off spending public $$ on them.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

So, this is your way of punishing the city for not cutting back on the services you personally find extraneous? Don't build that police building - that'll show 'em! And who suffers? All of us, after the earthquake, pandemic or other disaster.

The residents should support the bond measure. It will be our way of saying we understand what's really important around here.


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Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

Post Office!!!


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2012 at 11:34 am

Excuse me Resident, but I would like to see our city leaders and elected officials demonstrate an understanding of what's really important around here. They have and continue to spend millions on non-essential programs and services, seemingly ignoring the vital needs that exist in public safety and infrastructure. I'm tired of them coming back to the tax payers with a hand out. When they show some fiscal responsibility and foresight, close some libraries, contract out our animal services, and suspend non-essential capital improvements, then come back and talk to us. If we keep filling the trough, they will keep coming back for more. It's time for it to run dry and hold them accountable.


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Posted by Hey, Henny-Penny--The-Sky-is-NOT-Falling!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

> The infrastructure commission, in its own review, called the
> public-safety building "unsafe and vulnerable."

How many safety "experts" were on this committee which needs to be fully seen for what it is—"Friends of City Hall"?

> Last March, a consultant assessing the city's emergency
> services found the city's emergency-operations center
> (which is housed in the public-safety section of City Hall)
> "seismically unsafe" and incapable of withstanding a major disaster.

And just how did this "consultant" come to this conclusion? Earthquakes are characterized as having a point-of-origin (called the epicenter) and a magnitude. Secondary shocks also can occur, which are very hard to predict, unfortunately.

So .. we know that the Loma Prieta earthquake (epicenter not too far away on the San Andreas Fault, with a magnitude of 6.9 [Richter Scale] did absolutely no damage to the police station, or any of the other Palo Alto Public Safety facilities. So.. what "disaster" did this "consultant" dream up? (Notice the shift of wording from "earthquake" to "disaster".)

The City now has a $500K mobile communications center, that can easily be activated (or so sayeth the Palo Alto Police), and there are mutual aid agreements in place that would allow the telephone company to shift the 911 termination from the current call center to one of several surrounding cities (or so sayeth the Palo Alto Police). So, the claim that the emergency center is going to go "poof" is not going to be easily substantiated short of a 8+ (RS) earthquake occurring right under City Hall.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Here's an idea. How about we whack the salaries and benefits of our overpaid and mostly useless "public servants" by a large amount (I'd suggest 50%)? We could either put that money towards whatever real needs there are, or refund it to the long-suffering taxpayers


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I will be willing to pay for the new police building if the city stops funding PACT.


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Posted by Robin
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2012 at 1:03 pm

First, be smarter with the money you have. Once waste is addressed, consider additional taxes.

Palo Alto clearly has not done the former. The examples of waste are numerous, starting with overpayment and overstaffing of the city bureaucracy.

Look no further than our awful planning department, which demonstrated time and again that it wan't up to the job by delivering slow, lousy service for high fees, was recently expanded. We hired more bureaucrats and wasted more money (not to mention adding to the ridiculous public pension debt we're incurring due to the out of market benefits we give our public employees). Hiring a private sector firm in a competitive bid situation would have saved the taxpayers millions. Or, firing the underperforming planners and replacing them with people who were up to the task.

I'm tired of the city pleading poor. I will not bail out a government that is incapable of making efficient use of our tax dollars.


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Posted by bill g
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Henny Penny obviously has a degree in geology and can predict what would occur during an earthquake. I doubt it, but he/she can make judgments anyway without (probably) reading either the 2006 report or the current IBRC one. Further, the Mobile Operation Center is meant to be a temporary solution. It is not designed to function for days or weeks if the main dispatch center is totaled.

Merrol has some very good points. Stop spending money on groups' pet project, e.g. a bicycle bridge, and set aside the money for a number one priority - Public Safety. No new projects should be started until all of the IBRC ones are addressed. We don't have limitless funds, only limitless appetites for our wants.


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Posted by Hey, Henny-Penny--The-Sky-is-NOT-Falling!,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm

> Henny Penny obviously has a degree in geology and can predict
> what would occur during an earthquake

This is earthquake country, where hundreds of earthquakes occur yearly. Most news accounting give the epicenter and the magnitude--for people who either do, or either don't, have geology experience. It's difficult to believe than anyone on the IBRC brought such experience to the table.

> the Mobile Operation Center is meant to be a temporary solution

The police claim that this unit can operate for indefinite periods of time. If it can't, then they have been misinforming the public. The unit has its own power generators, and has plugs for tapping grid power. It's not intended to be slept in, but tents could be provided, much like the US Military uses when it is in combat.

Since the City was founded, there have been no "emergencies", or "disasters", that have required an extended response by the Police.

Oh, one final point--the largest number of people killed during the Loma Prieta Quake ('89) were in a government designed, and operated transportation structure--which was no doubt "certified by experts" .. until it fell down and killed a large number of people.


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Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm

If Palo Alto goes ahead and decides to build a new police/public safety building, it needs to carefully study the new one in San Mateo: that cost $30 million, not the $80 million that we've been told is needed for our building.

A few years ago, LaDoris Cordell said that the PAPD deserves "a Cadillac" of a building, and that spending $80 million was merited. Why?


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Posted by guest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2012 at 6:03 am

When after years of other rationales, you hear that a consultant says that "earthquake safety" demands taxpayer spending on civil servant offices, you know the claim is bogus.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

Just a point to keep in mind: The epicenter of the 1989 quake was 80 miles from here.

Palo Alto was incredibly lucky in that one. Did you see the Santa Cruz downtown or Watsonville -- at the epicenter -- after that quake? Complete rubble. Geologic issues (landfill) caused the horrible Oakland and SF tragedies.

PA got LUCKY in 1989...though there was some huge damage nearby (Stanford's old bldgs.)

Have a look at some photos of 1906 in Palo Alto to see what UNLUCKY looks like.....and we're way ovedue for a repeat of that one. There is no reason to expect luck to protect Palo Alto in future quakes -- after all the San Andreas travels right under us.

But if a rich and supposedly smart community like Palo Alto can't do anything but complain that preparedness is silly, that is a script they can recall after the quake.

I find the attacks on public employees disingenuous Most of the city salary totals reflect the cost of living here and cost of benefits. Both of those are absurdly high. Most PA employees certainly can't afford to live here...yet PA expects them to commute from Gilroy or Stockton etc.

Working in PA must be incredibly stressful. The letters on these pages make it clear that the locals despise their own employees (especially police and fire personnel)

I can't imagine why anyone would want to work in this contentious community and be subject its selective and selfish whims.



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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

"…complain that preparedness is silly…"

I don't see anyone complaining that preparedness is silly. What we are complaining about is the lack of fiscal responsibility that puts us in a position of having 5 libraries and no public safety building.

As for "selective and selfish whims," tell that to the special interests groups who convince the city council to spend money on non-essential projects at the expense of basic infrastructure and public safety.


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Posted by Lindsay
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm

"I can't imagine why anyone would want to work in this contentious community and be subject its selective and selfish whims."

I find it quite easy to imagine how getting paid out of market salaries and pensions unheard of in the private sector for working a union job with zero accountability to actually produce anything would appeal to a lot of people. The point above about the planning department by Robin was spot on. Joseph E Davis' comment is even more so.


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Posted by Me, Myself and I
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2012 at 8:31 pm

"If a major earthquake were to strike Palo Alto tomorrow..."

Judging by the inexcusable condition of our sidewalks, I thought the big one had already hit. If the city spent a lot less money trying to fight high speed rail, there would be more available for infrastructure projects.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jack Meoff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm

So many experts posting nonsense and they still continue to spew out the same crappola. No wonder the city never moves forward!


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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm

We already have a police department and a public safety building. We apparently have a new mobile headquarters van, yet we supposedly need to build a new police headquarters in case of "terrorism, earthquake, pandemic, or [most terrifying of all!] the like." Not sure why police are needed for a "pandemic" - somebody planning to riot? Or perhaps we'll need police to shoot the infected army of undead zombies after our brains? Chill people.


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Posted by Safety First
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Dear Skeptic,

I urge you to take a tour of our police department (which is also our "public safety operations headquarters") in the seismically unsound BASEMENT of City Hall. I did. It was an eye opener.

Put it on the ballot. I'll vote for it in a heartbeat.

Do your homework. This is a very real problem.


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Posted by Read the USGS studies
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Is the present location structurally unsound?

Fact: it survived the Loma Prieta quake; no seismic retrofits were required to render it 'safe'.

Fact: until the next 1906-type San Andreas fault earthquake occurs, only Loma Prieta-type earthquakes will occur. (Information source: USGS studies, which serve as the basis for earthquake insurance actuarial calculations.)

Fact: according to historic, geological evidence over the past several thousand years, the period between 1906-type earthquakes is no less than 150 years, and no more than 300 years. (Information source: same USGS studies.)

Inference: the next quake which could have enough energy to affect present public safety facilities will not occur before 2056.

Suggestion: start building a City plan to replace/revamp these facilities over the next 40 years, not the next 5. Start saving for it now.

Observation: it may well be that the present police HQ is not configured for the needs of a 'modern' department facility. If so, then argue on the merits. Don't obfuscate the issue by using earthquake scare tactics. The data and the studies by USGS do not support earthquake susceptibility as a valid reason to use new tax revenues to build new facilities.


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