News

Plan for new police headquarters cruises ahead

Palo Alto City Council supports three-story design for new public-safety building

Two city-owned parking lots on Sherman Avenue would make way for Palo Alto's new police headquarters, a parking structure and possibly a tiny park under a proposal that the City Council embraced Monday night.

In the latest milestone in the city's long quest to address its infrastructure emergency, the council unanimously directed staff to move ahead with constructing a three-story public-safety building that will also include the administrative offices of the Palo Alto Fire Department, the Office of Emergency Services and the Emergency Operation Center.

The project has been decades in the making. The existing police headquarters inside City Hall is famously cramped and seismically deficient. During the past two decades, at least six different studies have confirmed that the city needs a new police headquarters, most recently the 2011 report from the specially appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, which described the existing police hub as "unsafe and vulnerable."

But the search for a replacement has been frustrating and circuitous, dogged by economic hardships and lack of suitable sites. In 2009, the council flirted with the idea of building a police headquarters on Park Avenue, a plan that fizzled when the economy collapsed and the city withdrew from its lease option in the two properties (they have since been bought by Jay Paul Company, which is now planning on constructing an office development).

Since then, staff has analyzed more than 20 different sites, including near the the Los Altos Treatment Plant and along San Antonio Road. Last year, it adopted an infrastructure plan that names the public-safety building as the highest priority and in May, the council chose the the city-owned Sherman Avenue sites, which are located between Birch and Ash streets in the California Avenue business district.

On Monday night, the council reaffirmed its decision on the Sherman Avenue site and unanimously gave its nod of approval to a three-story design for the new public-safety building. The other option on the table was a two-story design that, while shorter, would have a larger footprint and require zoning exceptions. The three-story building, which would be roughly 45 feet in height (along with a parapet for equipment), is also favored by top staff from the city's public-safety departments. It would have a floor area of 45,454 square feet and a garage with 194 parking spaces.

In addition to moving ahead with the police building, staff was directed to pursue a parking structure on an adjoining lot, a project intended to compensate the California Avenue area for the lost parking spots and to address the parking pains associated with its recent vitality.

While the details of the parking structure have not yet been worked out, the council generally favored a garage with two levels of underground parking and retail on the ground floor. The new parking structure would include 460 parking spots, 160 more than is currently available on the two parking lots.

Michael Ross, an architect with the firm Ross Drulis Cusenbery Architecture and the city's long-time consultant on this project, said the three-story version offers several advantages over the two-story one. The building would be more compact; it would allow for future expansion of department operations; and it would have an operational basement with prisoner processing and other support functions, he said.

"In my professional opinion, both of these sites are suitable for the development of a public-safety building and parking garage and in many aspects superior to many of the sites we studied over the past few years," Ross said

Councilman Marc Berman, who served on the Infrastructure Committee before being elected to the council, observed that the existing police headquarters inside City Hall was already obsolete on the day it was built more than 50 years ago. The site on Sherman, while not perfect, is suitable for accommodating the new building, which has long been identified as the city's top infrastructure priority, he said. Berman particularly appreciated the flexibility that the three-story design allows.

"We're talking about building a public-safety building for the next 50 years," Berman said. "I think it's important that we build a public-safety building that can grow to additional needs that we can't anticipate today."

While the need for the public-safety building has remained steady, the cost estimates have been steadily rising. The council's infrastructure plan budgeted $57 million for the new public-safety building and another $9.6 million for a California Avenue garage. In today's heated construction market, the two projects have a combined budget of between $72 million and $97 million, according to staff.

The rising costs have not, however, dented the council's enthusiasm for a new public-safety building. While budget woes ended up sinking the city's 2009 bid for a new public-safety building, the city's economy is now soaring, with tax revenues significantly rising in every tax category.

Councilman Pat Burt noted that the rising hotel-tax revenues (buttressed by both new hotels and a 2014 measure that raised the tax rate from 12 to 14 percent) "should cover the difference and more between what had been our budget and what is likely to be the numbers."

Councilman Tom DuBois, the sole council member who favored the two-story building, was also the minority in expressing concerns about the rising costs.

"I think we can have a nice facility, but if there is a place to save money, we should start looking at those now," DuBois said.

Councilman Greg Scharff said the rising costs are to be expected. Because of the construction climate, costs up around 30 percent in every area. The council should assume that this project, like others, will be more expensive than when it was first budgeted (In fact, immediately after the discussion of the public-safety building, the council voted to cease negotiations with the design team working on the new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 because of rising costs).

"It doesn't mean anyone is wasting money or building a Taj Mahal," Scharff said. "I think it means construction costs have gone up."

At the same time, several council members made a case for making the building aesthetically pleasing. Mayor Karen Holman said the new public-safety building should satisfy all of the city's architectural standards. And Burt suggested that a proposed plaza in front of the police headquarters be instead converted into an "active little mini park."

"It can really be a great asset to the California Avenue area," Burt said.

Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Mark Michael
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2015 at 7:38 am

Of the extensive public service and leadership performed by the late Ray Bachetti, perhaps the most notable was his championing the need for a new Public Safety Building. As co-chair of IBRC, and a member of its subcommittee studying the Public Safety issues, Ray provided insight and analysis to recognize the City's highest priority infrastructure goal. When the new building begins serving residents, it would be fitting to name this the Ray Bachetti Memorial public safety building, as he served the city with such dedication and compassion.


34 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 8:20 am

I think it's great that the building will be more central, but I still think we should have smaller substations at less accessible locations. Our town is criss crossed by several major barriers that could obstruct safety operations.

I couldn't help laughing when I read it would possibly include a small park. If that little strip of grass at Alma Village is the park they were promised, what do you suppose "possible" and "small" as conditions will lead to?

Too bad Palo Alto doesn't have community minded billionaires like Los Altos, where Passarelle (spelled wrong Im sure) is keeping the place livable.


16 people like this
Posted by why
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2015 at 10:55 am

why do we need a new police station? it is already central. we don't need more unnecessary building and congestion in this city.


2 people like this
Posted by How About...
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm

"Too bad Palo Alto doesn't have community minded billionaires like Los Altos, where Passarelle (spelled wrong Im sure) is keeping the place livable."

How about the Steve and Laurene Jobs foundation?


36 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 15, 2015 at 12:31 pm

The story misses a major point -- this police station, at 45,000 sq ft, will be twice the size of the existing station on Forest Ave. I realize the police feel cramped in their current quarters, but do they need twice as much space? I worry that the empty caverns of this new building will be filled with additional officers who will need something to do -- like write tickets for minor offenses or engage in unwarranted surveillance with the latest electronic police gizmo. Crime is generally decreasing, so I don't think we need more police. Council should first investigate what the proper size of the police force should be, and then build a station to accommodate that force.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 12:48 pm

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by give me a helicopter
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 1:05 pm

When this station goes under construction will you please wait until the other major projects within blocks are finished. It's already hard enough getting around this area, to and from school pick-up. And please post extra workers to manage traffic so that cyclists aren't hit. There have already been 2 major collisions at the Park/Sherman intersection since I've lived here in 3 years...or just give us a helicopter because we already feel trapped.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

@How about

In Los Altos, the billionaire investment front is making it possible for Los Altos to maintain its small town community feel, with activities for youth, etc. the Jobs Foundation while doing laudable work, is doing nothing to keep Palo Alti livable. That's what I was referring to.


3 people like this
Posted by Hadleyburg
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Sorry @resident,
I question the question the wisdom of relying on noblesse oblige rather than taxes to fund a city a where the minimum price for a home is well over 1 million.
Isn't charity better directed to the needy?


44 people like this
Posted by Community Archivar
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 2:14 pm

A Good Comment should never be forgotten:

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2015 at 9:08 am

As we were driving to dinner last night, I said, "Guess where they're going to put the new police/ rescue station."

People laughed and said, "Great. Now the police cars and rescue vehicles can be stuck in gridlock just like we are right now trying to cross El Camino."

Seriously, you've got lane reductions coming on El Camino. Embarcadero and Oregon/Page Mill are already gridlocked. Charleston-Arastradero is due for a "redesign" with a median strip. University, Alma, Middlefield, San Antonio etc. are already parking lots for much of the day.

How will the police/rescue vehicles cross the rr tracks to get to the other side of town? Churchill? E. Meadow? (Cue the bike coalition.)

If this sounds like a bad joke, think about the reality of a police car /ambulance getting from Sherman to 101 or University Ave or to your house.


43 people like this
Posted by Community Archivar
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 2:24 pm

This old comment is even better.
Readers, please find more, because the Council does not want simpleton residents discuss this matter and question the wisdom of having a Central Police Station in the time of ipads and CISCO Video.

Posted by Rainer 33 people like this
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2015 at 1:42 am
Rainer is a registered user.
Ah, the good old Palo Alto $100M (because that's what it will cost after escalation) Central Police Station:Still making noise. It is on-life-support, I remember we were promised to vote on it.
Executive Summary:
This describes the space and financial solution for the Palo Alto Central Police Station (now cleverly called Public Safety Building):
Add a police floor, or two, to the fire stations, while seismically retrofitting them. No need to commit $100Million all at once, and you can do one at a time as finances allow, learning along the way.
If we would have decided on this route in 2006 we could have done the first retrofitting in 2008, with cheap bond money and low construction cost. That would have boosted the economy better than the harebrained idea to eliminate ground floor retail protection.
Haven't the wise people in City Hall realized that a Central Police Station is so yesterday, so unbecoming to the Technology Leader Palo Alto! Police and Fire Department nationwide, supported by technology, get away from Central Police Stations to Mobile Command Centers, integrating Fire and Police Departments along the way. Web Link
The fast way to start this in Palo Alto is to expand the 8 fire stations to house the police as well. Whenever citizens brought this idea up to the city council in recent year's meetings, individual councilors found it appropriate to ridicule the speakers. Very embarrassing to watch! On whose payroll are the Councilors? Or are they just feeling grandiose, Emperor-like?
The operational fusing of local fire districts shows the way. This makes sense for Palo Alto as well. "The effort to build a central police station has been going on for decades" we hear --- maybe there is a reason for it: it is an idea whose time has passed. It was made outdated of all things by this thing Palo Altan: an iPad.
Emergency magazines have detailed articles on iPad based systems, here is one from "9-1-1 Magazine" Web Link for Tiburon.
Another interesting case may be the City of Redlands, because of its similar size to Palo Alto Web Link
To boot, Japan, among other countries, has shown the world that the Koban based system leads to much better community policing with the patrol officers on foot, bicycle, or bike, but also cars being present in the neighborhood.
In an emergency, do you want the police or fire equipment come from a central fire station 30 minutes away, slowed down by rush hour traffic? The other day it took me 35 minutes at 5:30 PM to get from California Ave to San Antonio.
Friends in the police tell me that they really do not need the central place. Central police stations are mainly needed, I am told, to increase the self-worth of the police chief. With fewer people in his/her direct view the Chief will do what David Packard and Bill Hewlett prescribed many years ago: walking around. Community policing!
The chosen sainted architect is planning the building painstakingly down to the work stations we learned in today's City Council Meeting. How many work stations does the police department have now in their central location: 12 (twelve). And maybe zero in 3 years.


14 people like this
Posted by Conflicts of interest
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Greg Scharff's office bldg at 2211 Park Blvd is near this project.
Shouldn't he recuse himself from the discussion? Instead he is leading the discussion.


4 people like this
Posted by impact?
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Would you predict that construction of new Police Headquarters in Mayville would enhance or diminish real estate in the area?


3 people like this
Posted by Cresent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 4:14 pm

re: upsizing fire stations --- just curious as to where you will park all of the additional vehicles (city vehicles + private vehicles for all of the additional employees). Plus what you are suggesting is that the fire stations would need to go up at least two stories, if not three --- that doesn't work in residential neighborhoods.

No matter what - you still need a central PDHQ somewhere. Dispatch, booking, evidence, jail, management. And you also need a place to park the special purpose fleet.


28 people like this
Posted by Community Archivar
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Hej, @Crescent Park Dad,

I realize in re-posting the Weblinks got lost. You could have found them with a few minutes of Googling.

So see below that you indeed do not need a PDHQ. Dispatch goes from a mobile command post. Reports are written on the iPads.
Evidence yes – jail no, the Palo Alto PSB will not have a jail, maybe some holding cells.
Good opportunity to reduce management, Hewlett-Packard - style (before the evil Fiorina): Management by walking around.
So you do not need 3 stories.

So Crescent Park Dad, here we go, just click on the weblinks:


Haven’t the wise people in City Hall realized that a Central Police Station is so yesterday, so unbecoming to the Technology Leader Palo Alto! Police and Fire Department nationwide, supported by technology, get away from Central Police Stations to Mobile Command Centers, integrating Fire and Police Departments along the way. Web Link

The fast way to start this in Palo Alto is to expand the 8 fire stations to house the police as well. Whenever citizens brought this idea up to the city council in recent year's meetings, individual councilors found it appropriate to ridicule the speakers. Very embarrassing to watch! On whose payroll are they, or is it just bad behavior?
The operational fusing of local fire districts shows the way. This makes sense for Palo Alto as well. "The effort to build a central police station has been going on for decades" we hear --- maybe there is a reason for it: it is an idea whose time has passed. It was made outdated of all things by this thing Palo Altan: an iPad.

Emergency magazines have detailed articles on iPad based systems, here is one from "9-1-1 Magazine" Web Link for Tiburon.

Another interesting case may be the City of Redlands, because of its similar size to Palo Alto Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by why
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2015 at 11:02 pm

why not build a much needed gym in that space. this would be FAR more beneficial than another police station. as someone mentioned above, that will be the incentive to give even more unnecessary parking tickets. the parking issue has become a major scandal in PA--in fact, that is pretty much all the police do here. how many more are they going to need to give out in order to pay for this boondoggle.

BUILD A GYM that our youth can enjoy and do something good for Palo Alto for a change. there are NO gyms --volleyball, indoor soccer, basketball for the youth in Palo Alto. it would be filled to the brims and help keep our youth active with positive activities.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2015 at 10:50 am

No gyms? Really?

JCC
Ross Rd YMCA
Jordan
JLS
Terman
Gunn (2)
Paly (will have 2)
Cubberly

Now if you'd have said, we need more gym space because the existing gyms are booked, then I'd buy in to your argument. But blatant over the top statements don't help your cause.


4 people like this
Posted by why
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2015 at 8:44 pm

crescent park dad-- have you tried booking one of these gyms or even walking in with hopes of finding an open court? They are ALL booked with Paly for the next two years. Gunn does not rent their gyms and on the seldom occasions that they do, the cost is prohibitive. i stick to my point-there are no gyms that the youth can use. there is a great need for another gym in Palo Alto--every other community has gyms. the YMCA and JCC are as close to availability as any--but, they are always packed and have other activities going on, so one can't just walk in or count on having a good pick up game. the school gyms are off limits for youth to enjoy and are totally booked. trying to have a "team" practice or a tournament is out of the question. Palo Alto needs a gym that the youth can actually use. and, you forgot to mention the gym on Fabian--also, off limits unless you are a favored few. Stanford has Arrillaga gym that Stanford affiliates can use in a walk-in basis. this is what is missing in Palo Alto.


8 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:17 am

SteveU is a registered user.

What a train wreck!

Foothill Expressway, Train Tracks, The Bayshore are BARRIERS to fast emergency access to areas on the other side.
Putting the New station hip deep on one side of the tracks is lame. This is empire building.

I like the idea of Police substations. When I was in grade school, the town I lived in had the Police station above (up stairs) the fire trucks.

BTW In Japan, there are PARKS on the roofs of tall buildings. They don't need to be postage stamp sized like Alma Plaza


2 people like this
Posted by Sal
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:46 pm

As pointed out before, what is the point of a new public safety located in the epicenter of, and surrounded on all sides, by the worst traffic congestion in the city? There is NO plan that I am aware of to even consider traffic mitigation at El Camino and Page Mill, or Page Mill and Alma. Except possibly the proposed VTA bus express lane that will constrict El Camino down to two lanes. I would think the decades of unnecessary traffic congestion on El Camino where it pinches down to two lanes in Menlo Park should be an obvious warning to PA city planners.

To my knowledge, no one has ever addressed the option of a temporary relocation of the police, and simply rebuilding a two or three level facility where they are now next to city hall. Why?

Also, the existing police building has been declared seismically unsafe and a large part of the justification for a new facility, but no engineering documents have ever been produced that I am aware of to substantiate that claim. If the existing building is unsafe for the police, it's unsafe for anyone. Have there been any discussion in city hall about what to do with the empty space next to city hall once the police building is gone?

More unanswered questions than answers I'm afraid.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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