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Spending $1 million - just for a 'study’ of a new police station

Original post made by Diana Diamond on Sep 27, 2006

$1,037,490. That is the amount the Palo Alto City Council unanimously agreed to spend last Monday night for a new police building "study" on initial design, environmental review and cost estimates.

It's the cart before the horse. Residents should first decide whether they want a new police building before the council spends a million dollars determining what it would look like and how much it would cost the city to build it.

Building a new police station in town has been an issue here for the last two decades, and we have finally arrived at a point, thanks to a special Blue Ribbon Task Force, that recommended that we should construct a $40 to $50 million, 50,000 square-foot new police station in town.

Okay. But the only wrinkle in this idea is that to do so, the city needs to ask residents not only to approve it, but to pay for it.

That would mean a bond measure, which would mean we would all be assessed "x" amount a year in additional property taxes.

The city council feels it needs to convince voters (us) that the police station is really needed. They plan to have us vote on the idea in June 2008. Earlier this year, the city council agreed to go ahead with plans to develop a new police station, knowing all along that they would still have to get voter approval for the building.

Well, it is now September 2006, and the council has agreed to spend the $1 million for this design and cost study. This, I speculate, is only the first in a series of other studies on the building, as well as the cost of a campaign to convince us that we should approve of this police building.

The council should first find out whether most of us want a new police station in town. I think we have a divided community on this issue. Some favor the police station, others say a new library would be a better investment. But why not have a referendum this coming spring to get community agreement?

If voters okay the idea, then the council would know that any expenditure on a police station is fully justified, and not simply speculative.




Comments (23)

Posted by JS, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Next Palo Alto City Council will authorize the installation of a New Police Station trial plan and approve an associated set of performance measures. Followed by a (non-existent) survey to determine the results. The New trial Police Station will then be removed and replaced with road signs with directions to the current Police Station - at the expense of several more million dollars.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 27, 2006 at 5:09 pm

Holy CRAP.

What is the real solution? How can we get some "THINKING"
folks on the city council.

My solution: Frank Benest needs to go. He is proposing
stuff to the council and does so with fervor that the council
stops thinking.

Get RID of FRANK BENEST.



Posted by Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2006 at 11:40 pm

How is any of this Frank Benest's fault. Did he approve the $1M study? It looks like "Resident" isn't thinking this through.

Palo Alto city staff had TWICE recommended that we need a new police building, prior to the Blue Ribbon Commission deciding the same thing. Perhaps we shuold have listened to frank Benest and his staff the first, or second, time. Maybe we would have a new police station already, at a large fraction of the cost of what it will take to build 3-5 years hence.


Posted by ssquared, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2006 at 9:27 am

Yes, this is what Palo Alto is famous for. Study, hire consultants, study again. And we can't afford Brown Bag concerts!!!


Posted by ssquared, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2006 at 9:28 am

Yes, this is what Palo Alto is famous for. Study, hire consultants, study again. And we can't afford Brown Bag concerts!!!


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2006 at 10:02 am

You're missing something here, Diana. If you're going to ask voters to pay for something, they need to know the cost, what it will look like and what the environmental impacts are. How can you go for a bond without that information??


Posted by tvwatcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2006 at 11:53 am

The mayor seems very committed to making the police building happen. She said the people on the building taskforce were some of the best minds in Palo Alto.


Posted by Marianne, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2006 at 12:05 pm

D. Diamond, you have been a strong critic of the P.A. City Council for not making decisions and moving forward with plans, i.e. shopping areas. Now, you are criticizing them for moving forward with plans - why? I don't know your background, but do you have some qualifications in architecture or environmental studies to know if this amount of money is out of line? As a voter, I will want to have some idea of what a new police station or building would look like and cost. How would voters get these without some preliminary studies?


Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 28, 2006 at 3:16 pm

This whole million dollar study is being done on a site that the city does not even own yet.
Before the city invests that kind of money, shouldn't we first be certain that the land can be acquired--otherwise we will be wasting time and money on a study for a site that will never be utilized for a police building.


Posted by another Paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 28, 2006 at 8:36 pm

WHY is this 1 million dollars for any study in a medium-sized town?


Posted by no more bonds!, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2006 at 1:38 pm

Yikes, 1 MM for a study, I guess when your spending someone elses money it easier.


Posted by no more bonds!, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2006 at 1:39 pm

Yikes, 1 MM for a study, I guess when your spending someone elses money its easier.


Posted by Mayfield child, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2006 at 4:48 am

$$$$$$ YIPPES!! $$$$$$$$ Perhaps if the new police station is built, the building (at that price!) would have gold handcuffs built into the walls to detain prisoners as an added touch........???????$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Right now, when Palo Alto police arrests a suspect, they have to transport them by car all the way to San Jose (yes, they know the way to San Jose..) !! What a waste of taxpayer money for the overtime there, PLUS all the gas that could be saved......................


Posted by Frustrated resident, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 1, 2006 at 10:11 am

WHAT is going on??? A million dollars for a "STUDY" ???? That is appalling! How can we stop this constant drain on our now-flat pocketbooks?? This City Council is perhaps worse than the last one with the exception of a couple of new members like Larry Klein and a couple of other reasonable, thinking individuals from the last.

Keep up the information flow, Diana. We need to be reminded when election rolls around. With some tips on how we can get rid of the City Manager Benest who is unscrupulous.


Posted by An Involuntary Palo Altan, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 1, 2006 at 1:39 pm

Ms. Diamond has once again applied her favorite smear technique, citing numbers out of context. Is 1 million dollars for a study too much? I don't know. I don't have anything to compare it to. Does Ms. Diamond have any benchmarks for comparison? I doubt it. I hire a lot of lawyers for my work. It's pretty easy to blow through a million dollars. Let's see 2 people, billing $250/hr for 2000 hours (1 year), it adds up quickly honey.

It's funny to watch Ms. Diamond use this smear technique against people as well as projects. If she really wants to attack someone, she'll cite his salary. Strangely, Ms. Diamond seems to a think $100k/year is a large amount of income in this area. Look at the real world honey. You're not going to learn anything by hanging out with the local matrons.

I find it disturbing that Ms. Diamond's smear jobs are found to be persuasive by anyone who is allowed to vote. She clearly caters her arguments to the most penurious section of the Palo Alto community. The approving reply to her editorial arguing that 1 million dollars for a study is too much when brown bag concerts go unfunded proves my point. Why would a rational person ever equate these two unrelated items? Of course, I seem to remember an unintentionally hilarious editorial by Ms. Diamond in the Daily News where she argued that the proposed police station was too large by comparing it with the square footage of a Safeway market.


Ms. Diamond is also quite humorous when she suggests a vote on the police station before we authorize a study. Let's see, we vote (simple majority?) on whether or not Palo Alto wants a new police station, even though multiple task forces have concluded that a new station is necessary. We approve the station and then conduct a study. The study says the station needs to be a different size and will cost different amount. Then we can have another vote to see if want station at the new size and the new cost. Then we can have another vote on a bond measure (2/3 required- remember this is nutty California). For woman who frequently complains about the "Palo Alto Process", Ms Diamond she sure seems enamored with it.


Posted by Simon, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 2, 2006 at 1:01 pm

Thanks Involuntary - you've said what many of us are thinking! Does Ms. Diamond have any qualifications to criticize this study? Not that I've ever heard!


Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 3, 2006 at 12:31 pm

Simon--what qualificatiosn do you need to criticize this or any other study?
This is public money being used for a costly study on a piece of land that the city does not yet own.
i believe that Ms Diamond and any other resident of this city ha sthe right to criticize this study.
But, please, enlighten me as to what qualifications one needs to criticize the antics and delaying tactics of the PA City Council?


Posted by Simon, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 3, 2006 at 1:13 pm

Perhaps someone who does have some qualifications could answer - is 1 million too much for such a study of a Police building for a city the size of Palo Alto? I do not have those qualifications. I don't know Ms. Diamond so I don't know if she does. But I think some people jump to conclusions when they hear this figure and assume the city is wasting money. Perhaps Ms. Diamond could give the city's side once in a while? There are always 2 sides to a story. My objection has been that Ms. Diamond has chosen to give her opinion without any facts to back it up. Yes, I realize it is her opinion, but is her objection to the study based on facts or just that she would like to see the money spent on another project?


Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2006 at 3:36 pm

Well, I used to be a consultant, and for a million dollars, you would get a team of 3-4 individuals working full time on a topic for 2+ months. I sincerely doubt that it takes that long to do a cost estimate for the police building. And BTW we already pay for a city engineer and similarly qualified people in the development center. I have built two structures in PA so far and both times, their guesstimate for the cost of the construction was within 10% upon hand-drawn sketches being presented to them. So in short, no it should not cost $1m.

Furthermore, I have yet to understand what is wrong with the old building. It could be refurbished. One could add a story or two to it if it was really needed. But I have a feeling that we are looking at a bloated bureaucracy that simply wants to have nice digs to hang out in. There are so many suburbs the size of PA throughout the US that don't have their own police force. I know of some very well-to-do neighborhoods in Houston that do not have their own police force, and the crime rates there are generally higher. But ignoring that discussion, let's simply focus on the size of the facility.

50,000 sq feet is somewhat mind boggling. A "large cube" for senior level persons at my firm, a money management firm, is 8' x 10'. The managing director, a multi-millionaire, sits in an office that is maybe 8'x15'. So assuming the police get to have offices like those of high-flying wall street millionaire types, and assuming a 50% ratio of office space to common space (which is low relative to most modern construction), 50,000 sq ft would be ample space for 208 people.

If we were more modest, and asked that the police sit in cubes that are typically reserved for upper management with an impeccable career and an "A" average at a top 10 undergradaute school, plus an MBA from a top 10 school, then 50,000 sq ft would seat 312 people.

If we were a public entity seeking to maximize capital savings, then perhaps we wold insist on smaller 6x8 cubes. Still not too shabby and typical of your middle level manager who has worked say a decade or more at HP or Intel. Under such an assumption, 50,000 sq ft would provide space for 521 people. And that would still leave 50%, that is 25,000 sq ft, of unused space for hallways and meeting rooms.

Frankly, I just don't understand why we would need a 50,000 sq ft police station.


Posted by P.A Fireman, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2007 at 3:38 pm

How about the the million++++ $ spent on a paramedic transport engine program that never was??? Build two engines that are unsafe and unable to function.Increase the number of paramedics to staff this program.. Never agree on a labor contract with the Firefighters union to staff this program..Select a date this program will start.. What next go to court to keep people from finding out about this or just pretend it never happened?? So next time Frank crys that there is no money and the city workers need to take cut in pay and benifits ask him about the Paramedic Transport Engine program?? Maybe he should give up a pay raise or pay his own property tax??? And then there is the Water Rescue program...What a crime...


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Voting on a bond for this project is going to be an act of faith, not a rational judgment. No one seems to have a clue what, if anything, this new building would do for the residents. Public benefit wasn't on the list of reasons given by Chief Johnson at the Council session I attended.

(More record storage, easier communication for staff, new wiring, the building is old and the retrofit is not trustworthy, etc. etc.)

Nothing that moved the City Council would help to pass a bond issue.
The Police Chief thinks that a new building would be nice for staff.

My guess is that staff would rather have money. Perhaps we should poll the beat cops or whether or not they'd rather get more money than work in a nicer building?

Diana Diamond is no more ignorant, and no wiser, than anyone else. Including, unfortunately, the City Manager and the City Council and the City Attorney.

Perhaps the biggest task they've given this consulting firm is to come up with something to sell at the polls.

Obviously, seismic issues won't fly. Even if true, the City Hall's on top of the police station. Wouldn't justice and honor require demolishing and replacing the whole thing?


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Voting on a bond for this project is going to be an act of faith, not a rational judgment. No one seems to have a clue what, if anything, this new building would do for the residents. Public benefit wasn't on the list of reasons given by Chief Johnson at the Council session I attended.

(More record storage, easier communication for staff, new wiring, the building is old and the retrofit is not trustworthy, etc. etc.)

Nothing that moved the City Council would help to pass a bond issue.
The Police Chief thinks that a new building would be nice for staff.

My guess is that staff would rather have money. Perhaps we should poll the beat cops or whether or not they'd rather get more money than work in a nicer building?

Diana Diamond is no more ignorant, and no wiser, than anyone else. Including, unfortunately, the City Manager and the City Council and the City Attorney.

Perhaps the biggest task they've given this consulting firm is to come up with something to sell at the polls.

Obviously, seismic issues won't fly. Even if true, the City Hall's on top of the police station. Wouldn't justice and honor require demolishing and replacing the whole thing?


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2007 at 4:52 pm

Diana Diamond may not be a space scientist, but it doesn't take an expert to know that the sun is hot. And it doesn't take a degree in government watchdogging to know that a million dollars is a lot of money - even to a bureaucrat.

We've been trusting the Council and their various expert studies for years...and we've been given things like the $6 million Homer Bike Tunnel that's so poorly designed few can use it, a $25 million street repair backlog, giant giveaways to city employees and a covered-up scandal at the Utility Department.

I say thanks to Ms Diamond for raising questions about how the government spends our money. If someone had been doing more of this years ago, the city wouldn't be in the financial trouble it is.

I wonder if Involuntary feels similarly about newspaper columnists who raise questions about how Bush is running the Iraq war. Are only Generals allowed to criticize the war...or is being a "mere" citizen sufficient?!


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