News

New police headquarters hangs in the balance as City Council's priorities shift

As contract for public safety building heads to approval, some suggest project should be delayed

The Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to consider on Feb. 1 a construction contract for a new public safety building. Some council members said on Jan. 25 that they would like to see some infrastructure projects deferred. Rendering courtesy city of Palo Alto.

Facing plummeting revenues and continued uncertainty about the pandemic's trajectory, the Palo Alto City Council is preparing to reshuffle its list of infrastructure priorities and potentially delay its most ambitious project, a new police headquarters.

But even amid the recent staff layoffs and budget cuts, council members are preparing to move ahead with two ambitious, expensive and long-discussed projects that they believe will aid the city in its recovery from COVID-19: the extension of the city's fiber network to every household and a permanent reconfiguration of the city's most prominent thoroughfare, University Avenue.

Both of these efforts are included in the wide-ranging economic recovery plan that City Manager Ed Shikada presented on Monday night to a largely receptive council. The plan also includes upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at City Hall and other public facilities to improve indoor air quality; assisting local businesses by permitting parklets and temporary street closures; and developing a series of activities and events to promote community well-being.

In discussing Palo Alto's recovery plan, council members signaled a desire to see the city's priorities reshuffled in recognition of the new normal. While the council didn't formally add or delete any priorities, the discussion suggested that the public safety building, a centerpiece of the council's 2014 infrastructure priority list, could be deferred to next week, when the council is scheduled to consider a construction contract for the long-planned project.

The council's proposal to reevaluate its infrastructure priorities comes at a time when the city has seen a significant drop in revenues and a corresponding reduction in city services. Last June, the council adopted a budget that reduced general fund expenditures from $230.8 million in fiscal year 2020 to $197 million in 2021, a 15% decrease that included deep cuts to arts programs, libraries and public safety departments. The city's workforce was reduced from 1,035 full-time-equivalent positions to 958.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

The city has continued to move ahead, however, with its plan for a new public safety building that would go up at 250 Sherman Ave., next to the recently completed garage in the California Avenue business district. On Feb. 1, the council is scheduled to consider a $92.3 million construction contract with Swinerton Buildings, a $3 million contract with Nova Partners for construction management and a $1.7 million contract with Ross Drulis Cusenbery Architecture for design services.

The police building is a central component on an infrastructure priority list that also includes two rebuilt fire stations (one of which, at Rinconada Park, was completed last March), a bike bridge at Adobe Creek (currently in construction) and the California Avenue district garage, which opened last fall.

A parking garage under construction along Sherman Avenue in Palo Alto on Oct. 20, 2020. The facility opened later in the fall. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

But while Shikada is recommending moving ahead with the police building contracts, several council members suggested Monday that it's time to reconsider the city's priorities. Vice Mayor Pat Burt, who advocated for delaying construction of the public safety building by six months or a year during his council campaign last year, made a similar case Monday. When the council adopted its budget last year, its decisions were "driven by an urgency" and "a rapidly changing set of conditions," Burt said.

"We have an all-time record capital improvement plan that is largely unchanged from what we had going into the pandemic," Burt said. "We've had a crisis in our operations — what we're able to do, what we need to serve, how we would provide those functions — and yet the capital plan is at an all-time record. … Some of those projects do not meet the standard in my mind of having any sort of urgency."

At the same time, Burt and other council members voiced support for new priorities for the city to pursue. One is an exploration of permanent changes to University Avenue. This would include the installation of bollards that make it easy for the city to open and close the street to traffic.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

The bollards would be just the latest in a series of transformations that University Avenue has seen over the course of the pandemic. Last summer, the city closed University Avenue to traffic to support outdoor dining, a move that won plaudits from visitors and from restaurants along University but that also drew criticism from retail establishments on the main road and from restaurants on other downtown streets. The city reopened University Avenue to traffic last month, as new health restrictions that prohibited outdoor dining took effect.

"There are almost violent disagreements as to what should happen to University Avenue," Shikada told the council Monday. "Quite frankly, in the near term, in the absence of a long-term plan, we're going to have to choose who are the winners and losers on the street among the businesses that are fronting University.

Diners eat at Local Union 271 restaurant, which served around 40 people during lunch rush hour, on June 27, 2020. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

Another project that is reemerging as a council priority is Fiber to the Home, an effort to expand the city's underground fiber network to every residence. The city has considered numerous proposals for a fiber extension since the 1990s, though every effort had ultimately fizzled.

Now, with COVID-19 reinforcing the importance of reliable high-speed internet, council members and city staff are looking to revive and accelerate the fiber effort.

Utilities Director Dean Batchelor said Monday that staff is commissioning "full-fledged engineering design" of a system that would bring fiber to every home in Palo Alto. The city is also exploring a cost-sharing bundling package for residents that would include fiber service, electrification and "undergrounding" of electric infrastructure.

"We think that might be a good way of looking at getting into neighborhoods a little bit quicker, as well as dealing with our undergrounding areas," Batchelor said.

Council member Alison Cormack said she strongly supports the effort to expand the fiber ring. The council continues to get "really detailed, pleading emails" from people in households where children are doing school work remotely while adults are trying to work. Cormack suggested that the council view the fiber expansion as the "foundation that we're laying for the next 50-plus years." She also favored the approach of blending the installation of fiber with other utility services.

"Not a great time from a financial standpoint, but if we can integrate all these things we would like to do in utilities as a program … I think that's worth doing," Cormack said.

Council member Greg Tanaka also said he would support expanding high-speed internet.

"A lot of people are working from home and it's become a more permanent thing," Tanaka said. "That to me is a really high priority, especially to the residents in our city, because it's such a frequent issue for so many people."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

New police headquarters hangs in the balance as City Council's priorities shift

As contract for public safety building heads to approval, some suggest project should be delayed

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jan 26, 2021, 12:03 am

Facing plummeting revenues and continued uncertainty about the pandemic's trajectory, the Palo Alto City Council is preparing to reshuffle its list of infrastructure priorities and potentially delay its most ambitious project, a new police headquarters.

But even amid the recent staff layoffs and budget cuts, council members are preparing to move ahead with two ambitious, expensive and long-discussed projects that they believe will aid the city in its recovery from COVID-19: the extension of the city's fiber network to every household and a permanent reconfiguration of the city's most prominent thoroughfare, University Avenue.

Both of these efforts are included in the wide-ranging economic recovery plan that City Manager Ed Shikada presented on Monday night to a largely receptive council. The plan also includes upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at City Hall and other public facilities to improve indoor air quality; assisting local businesses by permitting parklets and temporary street closures; and developing a series of activities and events to promote community well-being.

In discussing Palo Alto's recovery plan, council members signaled a desire to see the city's priorities reshuffled in recognition of the new normal. While the council didn't formally add or delete any priorities, the discussion suggested that the public safety building, a centerpiece of the council's 2014 infrastructure priority list, could be deferred to next week, when the council is scheduled to consider a construction contract for the long-planned project.

The council's proposal to reevaluate its infrastructure priorities comes at a time when the city has seen a significant drop in revenues and a corresponding reduction in city services. Last June, the council adopted a budget that reduced general fund expenditures from $230.8 million in fiscal year 2020 to $197 million in 2021, a 15% decrease that included deep cuts to arts programs, libraries and public safety departments. The city's workforce was reduced from 1,035 full-time-equivalent positions to 958.

The city has continued to move ahead, however, with its plan for a new public safety building that would go up at 250 Sherman Ave., next to the recently completed garage in the California Avenue business district. On Feb. 1, the council is scheduled to consider a $92.3 million construction contract with Swinerton Buildings, a $3 million contract with Nova Partners for construction management and a $1.7 million contract with Ross Drulis Cusenbery Architecture for design services.

The police building is a central component on an infrastructure priority list that also includes two rebuilt fire stations (one of which, at Rinconada Park, was completed last March), a bike bridge at Adobe Creek (currently in construction) and the California Avenue district garage, which opened last fall.

But while Shikada is recommending moving ahead with the police building contracts, several council members suggested Monday that it's time to reconsider the city's priorities. Vice Mayor Pat Burt, who advocated for delaying construction of the public safety building by six months or a year during his council campaign last year, made a similar case Monday. When the council adopted its budget last year, its decisions were "driven by an urgency" and "a rapidly changing set of conditions," Burt said.

"We have an all-time record capital improvement plan that is largely unchanged from what we had going into the pandemic," Burt said. "We've had a crisis in our operations — what we're able to do, what we need to serve, how we would provide those functions — and yet the capital plan is at an all-time record. … Some of those projects do not meet the standard in my mind of having any sort of urgency."

At the same time, Burt and other council members voiced support for new priorities for the city to pursue. One is an exploration of permanent changes to University Avenue. This would include the installation of bollards that make it easy for the city to open and close the street to traffic.

The bollards would be just the latest in a series of transformations that University Avenue has seen over the course of the pandemic. Last summer, the city closed University Avenue to traffic to support outdoor dining, a move that won plaudits from visitors and from restaurants along University but that also drew criticism from retail establishments on the main road and from restaurants on other downtown streets. The city reopened University Avenue to traffic last month, as new health restrictions that prohibited outdoor dining took effect.

"There are almost violent disagreements as to what should happen to University Avenue," Shikada told the council Monday. "Quite frankly, in the near term, in the absence of a long-term plan, we're going to have to choose who are the winners and losers on the street among the businesses that are fronting University.

Another project that is reemerging as a council priority is Fiber to the Home, an effort to expand the city's underground fiber network to every residence. The city has considered numerous proposals for a fiber extension since the 1990s, though every effort had ultimately fizzled.

Now, with COVID-19 reinforcing the importance of reliable high-speed internet, council members and city staff are looking to revive and accelerate the fiber effort.

Utilities Director Dean Batchelor said Monday that staff is commissioning "full-fledged engineering design" of a system that would bring fiber to every home in Palo Alto. The city is also exploring a cost-sharing bundling package for residents that would include fiber service, electrification and "undergrounding" of electric infrastructure.

"We think that might be a good way of looking at getting into neighborhoods a little bit quicker, as well as dealing with our undergrounding areas," Batchelor said.

Council member Alison Cormack said she strongly supports the effort to expand the fiber ring. The council continues to get "really detailed, pleading emails" from people in households where children are doing school work remotely while adults are trying to work. Cormack suggested that the council view the fiber expansion as the "foundation that we're laying for the next 50-plus years." She also favored the approach of blending the installation of fiber with other utility services.

"Not a great time from a financial standpoint, but if we can integrate all these things we would like to do in utilities as a program … I think that's worth doing," Cormack said.

Council member Greg Tanaka also said he would support expanding high-speed internet.

"A lot of people are working from home and it's become a more permanent thing," Tanaka said. "That to me is a really high priority, especially to the residents in our city, because it's such a frequent issue for so many people."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 9:26 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 9:26 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 9:27 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 9:27 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Resident8
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:05 am
Resident8, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:05 am

The current facility is not earthquake safe or usable after an earthquake as well as being functionally obsolete. If we delay the PSB it will end up costing tax payers more. The PSB is primarily debt financed and with low interest rates and lower construction costs 2021 is the best deal and lowest cost the city will get.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:44 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:44 am

I don't get why the city is paying for fiber expansion. The city has failed miserably at it for decades. Let the city respond to the "pleading emails" with a list of the many service providers already providing that service. Why does Ms. Cormack think it should be a PA priority to compete with all the big corporate providers??

"The plan also includes upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at City Hall and other public facilities to improve indoor air quality;....."

Just say no to this one. Cut that instead of cutting resident-serving services like the library, arts, etc. There's enough hot air there already.

By the way, when are we getting our refunds for PAU's "over-charges"? You want to help the economy, start there! The city attorney knows how to slow-walk what SHE wants to delay while rushing things like the Foothill Park lawsuit, protecting violent police officers from getting THEIR pensions/retirement reduced.


Duveneck
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:41 am
Duveneck, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:41 am

In terms of budgetary concerns: since recent administrative and usage changes for Foothills Park, what now is the necessary budget to keep it operating responsibly and safely? How much did this necessary expenditure increase as a result of the recent changes?


Michele Dauber
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:48 am
Michele Dauber, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 11:48 am

[Portion removed.] The last thing we should spend money on is a police palace. We need city services, including increased activities and mental health supports for youth and seniors who are unable to connect with their friends and are suffering from social isolation during the pandemic.

PAPD has engaged in repeated alleged serious misconduct repeatedly over the last several years with little oversight or accountability. Ed Shikada is worse than worthless, doing nothing about it. They should not be rewarded for this abuse of the public trust with a new palatial headquarters while teens and seniors and the rest of the public can go eat cake I guess.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jan 26, 2021 at 12:19 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 12:19 pm

I think police buildings should look "intimidating." Sending a quit committing crimes message to the community.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 26, 2021 at 12:23 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 12:23 pm

So PA should "intimidate" innocent citizens and taxpayers just walking by? PA has better ways to spend our money.


commonsense
Registered user
Professorville
on Jan 26, 2021 at 12:51 pm
commonsense, Professorville
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Wow! Wasn't the original budget $50 million? Now it's doubled? The existing building could be gutted and retrofitted to be earthquake safe saving the city tens of millions. $100,000,000 for a new police building is ridiculous at any time and especially now.


Resident8
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2021 at 2:34 pm
Resident8, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 2:34 pm

@commonsense. The current police department is housed in the basement of city hall, which is not seismically resilient and would not be usable after a major earthquake. It would require tearing down city hall and rebuilding it, which is 7 stories above ground.


commonsense
Registered user
Professorville
on Jan 26, 2021 at 2:57 pm
commonsense, Professorville
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 2:57 pm

Not true. It's in an adjacent building with its own garage. It can be repaired and it's done all the time for the reason mentioned above - it's far less expensive than building new. New would be a much more beautiful building, not something a police department needs and not something the city can afford. Tackle the pension problem instead of kicking that down the road another decade and you can have a new police building every couple of years.


Resident8
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2021 at 4:48 pm
Resident8, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 4:48 pm

@commonsense all feasible sites for the police station were evaluated and I don't believe the existing site was considered feasible. Not sure where you were during those years but what may seem easy and feasible often is not.


CT resident
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2021 at 5:02 pm
CT resident, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 5:02 pm

It's great that we keep talking about closing libraries but are willing to spend $100 million on the police for basically no reason. Especially when the police keep costing the city millions by needlessly brutalizing people.


Dick D.
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:18 pm
Dick D., Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2021 at 10:18 pm

Two items – fiber. Why the city when there are very good commercial offerings NOW. If the issue is cost of the current services why not a cost sharing for those who can't afford the commercial services. As someone else remarked our city government is incapable of operating such a system, keeping it competitive in this ever changing technical activity. How is the city possibly going to get staff comparable to th likes of ATT !?

The second item is police facilities. For any one who has visited the current facility, aside from building safety, you'd have to see and hear the operational constraints due to the cramped space and lack of flexibility as the organization appropriately evolves. "Rehabilitating" the current facility may take care of building safety problems, but it would still leave it as it is insofar as space and ability to keep up with changing needs and organizational changes. If we're serious about our police department doing ever more and change what and how it is doing things, it ain't gonna happen where they are now. With interest rates so low, now seems the right time to get some bonds out there to finance this.


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Jan 27, 2021 at 8:47 am
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2021 at 8:47 am

quote: "The last thing we should spend money on is a police palace."

∆ architecturely speaking, it does not look palatial in design.

quote: "I think police buildings should look "intimidating."

∆ as in a penitentiary?

quotes: "The existing building could be gutted and retrofitted to be earthquake safe saving the city tens of millions."

"The current police department is housed in the basement of city hall, which is not seismically resilient and would not be usable after a major earthquake."

∆ the current PAPD facility survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. how much more seismic stability is actually required?

using the 'non-seismic resilliant' rationale, then the entire section of the former PD facility + underground garage should be cordoned off and not used to house or accommodate any additional municipal offices or departments. fat chance.

quote: "...willing to spend $100 million on the police for basically no reason. Especially when the police keep costing the city millions by needlessly brutalizing people.

∆ this is a separate issue altogether. the police-related brutality you speak of is a national pandemic of its own.

personal opinion > the current and existing PAPD facility suffices + having this building on California Avenue destroys the 'small town' atmosphere of the shopping and dining district.

and being so close to the courthouse, there will be absolutely no excuse for a PAPD officer not appearing when a traffic-related citation is being contested.





Resident8
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2021 at 9:22 am
Resident8, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2021 at 9:22 am

The Loma Prieta Earthquake epicenter was in Santa Cruz on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains. The next major Bay Area earthquake will likely be in the Bay Area, either on the Hayward or San Andreas fault. The shaking will be much larger and more intense. For example, if on the Hayward fault its estimated to do at least $160 billion in damage vs. $6 billion for the Loma Prieta earthquake.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2021 at 2:18 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2021 at 2:18 pm

In the past it wasn't considered feasible to safely retrofit the current police headquarters to be earthquake proof. At least compared to the cost of a new police building which at the time I seem to remember was anticipated to cost $30 million.

However, with the vastly increased cost of constructing a new police headquarters, although the city has already sunk considerable cost into the new plans, perhaps it is time to revisit the original decision just to make sure that a new building is less expensive than a safe retrofit of the existing headquarters.


Dick D.
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2021 at 7:02 pm
Dick D., Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jan 29, 2021 at 7:02 pm

Which makes more sense, a fancier Council Chambers or spending to meet the needs of the changing but growing list of things we're asking of the PAPD . . . I make reference to the list of lower priority items such as spending money on nicer chambers and such things – for the community - that are really not of as high a priority. I have previously noted the current facility can not accommodate the increasing tasks the community is asking of PAPD along with accommodating a new crew of mental health workers to deal with situations where force and use of weapons is the wrong way to go. If anyone would find the present facilities suitable for the critical activity of PAPD they are neither able to see or hear - have you been there? Somewhere along the way we've put up the money for upgraded fire stations so they can be more effective . . . don't we want the same thing for the community with a greatly improved facility for greater effectiveness our PAPD?

The issue of the structural integrity of the current building by making reference to a nasty but hardly big time 'quake of some years ago is not realistic, looking forward. We had Loma Priete and of course the 8.3 a bit more than a century ago.

We are rather limply working on adding housing - which means more people. Does that not take more police to protect all of us . . . sure ss blue blazes not in the current facility.


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Jan 30, 2021 at 8:20 am
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Jan 30, 2021 at 8:20 am

quote: "...a greatly improved facility for greater effectiveness our PAPD?"

∆ with PD de-funding/budgetary cut-backs a major national and municipal topic these days, a costly and larger police facility sends out the wrong message.

if crime prevention and local arrests remain the primary priority, then use the monetary resources to hire more officers instead of spending limited resources on another building.

and as far as cramped spaces go, consider implementing smaller cubicles or trimming unnecessary clerical staff.

over the years, many traditional police duties have been relegated to various non-sworn coordinators and administrative staff, adding to the increasingly cramped quarters.

given the struggling economy and limited municipal budgets, the PD needs to make some sacrifices as well and adding to creature comforts is not a sound use of city finances.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 1, 2021 at 11:58 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2021 at 11:58 am

Looking at Nash Bridges reruns on TV they are on an anchored ship in the SF harbor. That adds color. In Baltimore they had their police department on a Pier that is now a hotel run by Mr. Under Armour who is trying to build a tech center near the pier. I have been to that new hotel - very fashionable. We don't have a pier or a facility lacking current usage. We do have a neighbor in SU which has an abundance of unused property in which we could share responsibility for the safety of the general area.
And make no mistake - the city of Oakland is experiencing a steep rise in violent gun deaths. This city is experiencing a rise in strange illegal activity - some perpetuated by very young people escaping in stolen cars. Time for PA and SU to combine forces.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.