In their eagerness to build a new police station in town, Palo Alto City Council members may have forgotten about all of us.
On Monday night, the council unanimously approved going forward with the proposal to build a 49,600-square-foot police station on Park Boulevard at an estimated cost of $38 to $45 million.
Not only did the council agree to the proposed Park Boulevard site near the corner where Agilent Technologies currently has its corporate headquarters, but it also gave city staff the go-ahead to start negotiating to buy the two parcels of land needed for the site. In fact, a couple of council members suggested the city should use its eminent domain powers, if necessary, to acquire the land.
The council members are acting like this idea for a new huge police station is a get-go from the start. They heaped praise upon their Blue Ribbon committee's report that recommended a new police building, and Monday night voted for it nine-to-zip, with nary a negative thought. But surely they could not have forgotten that they will need a bond measure that we residents will have to approve.
So wouldn't it seem more logical that before the council goes and buys the land, draws up plans for the new station, et cetera, et cetera, that it first makes sure that residents are willing to pay for it?
Council members know that getting resident approval will be a hard sell. So that's why the council is talking about a June 2008 (two years from now) vote from residents. They think that much time will be needed to convince all of us that a new big police station is a good thing.
Perhaps. But it seems to me there are two ways to approach this issue: 1) Get conceptual approval now from voters, or 2) Put together an entire package, with a full set of plans and complete with the purchased land, and then ask for voter approval.
Timing is critical here, because paying for a new police station may meet with voter resistance depending on what other expenditures we are being asked to approve. There are many competing interests. We just okayed a new bond measure for Foothill-DeAnza College, which will add an average of $125/year to our property bills. The Palo Alto School District is talking about another parcel tax because it needs more money, and there's still a push to improve our libraries, which, again, could be an additional property tax levy. At some point residents will say, "Stop. I cannot afford any more in property taxes."
I don't think the city should wait two years for a vote on the police station. I think the time is now. Forget about buying land until we taxpayers say it's a good idea. The city council has to make the case right now that the space is needed and this is the cheapest way to achieve it. We don't need to get into a community argument whether the proposed building has too big a meeting room or too much space for a police gym. We need to have people agree or disagree that a) a new police building is needed, b) that this has higher priority over other community needs ( schools, libraries) and c) the residents are willing to support a $40 to $50 million bond measure, which, by the way, with interest, will come to nearly $100 million.