After 17 years of fits and starts in Palo Alto's quest to build a new police headquarters, residents at a community meeting Wednesday night told the city to make it happen sooner rather than later.
About 20 people gathered at Escondido Elementary School to hear the plans that would move the police and emergency operations headquarters and fire administration from downtown to the California Avenue district near the North County Courthouse on Sherman Avenue.
The new 44,500-square-foot building and an adjacent parking structure at 250 Sherman Ave. would take over two parking lots. It would be heavily reinforced to prevent an incursion by terrorists, whether by bombs or someone ramming the building with a vehicle, said Michael Ross of consultant RossDrulisCusenbery Architecture, Inc.
Residents and local business owners mostly welcomed the headquarters' move to the California Avenue district, although some voiced concerns that increased traffic would hamper public safety. But others said they are tired of the merry-go-round of plans for the new facility that has not materialized, and they want the public safety building to be built now.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris seemed to be on many people's minds, and some residents said that in the current climate they want the city to have a protected facility that would withstand any terrorist acts. Others feared that a centralized structure would become a target.
Some residents voiced concerns that city leaders have allowed the community to remain vulnerable for so long without an adequate police and emergency operations center in the event of a major earthquake.
Assistant Public Works Director Brad Eggleston said the current public safety building at City Hall was built in 1970 and does not meet standards for remaining functional in a large quake.
Office of Emergency Services Director Kenneth Dueker and Fire Chief Eric Nickel said their departments have "multiple redundancies" so that services will continue if one segment is down, and some of the replicated services are at Moffett Field and other locales.
Some residents expressed concerns about traffic and speeding police cars, which might create additional noise with sirens, but police Capt. Patty Lum said there are only a few instances when officers must leave the station directly to address an incident. In most cases, they are already out in the field. New online systems will also soon make it possible for officers to file their reports while in their patrol cars rather than needing to return to headquarters.
Some business owners expressed concerns about parking-related issues.
"Businesses will be highly affected by the building that are up against it," said co-owner of European Cobblery Jessica Roth, adding that a strip of ground-level parking and access to the back of the buildings should be ensured for customers and store loading areas.
For safety reasons, parking is not typically put next to a public safety building, but the loading areas would be preserved, Ross said.
Many business owners and residents said the city should plan for additional parking to the 150 extra spaces in the current plans. That sentiment was echoed by several other people who don't want the city to be short-sighted and have to revisit the parking issue again later.
The City Council will review the proposal on Dec. 14.