News

Palo Alto breaks ground on new public safety building

Council members, staff celebrate long-awaited project

Palo Alto Mayor Tom DuBois makes introductory remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the city's new public safety building on June 2, 2021. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

Donning hard hats and reflective vests, Palo Alto leaders gathered in a dirt-packed lot near California Avenue on Wednesday morning to mark the beginning of the city's largest and most long-awaited infrastructure project: the construction of the new public safety building.

For a city that has been in social distancing mode since March 2020, the ceremony represented in some ways a return to normal as council members and staff mingled inside the gated construction site before proceeding to flip dirt with ceremonial shovels. For former Mayor Vic Ojakian, who in 2006 served on a blue ribbon task force that first recommended replacing the Police Department's undersized and seismically vulnerable headquarters at City Hall with a larger and safer structure, the event felt long overdue.

Ojakian, who attended the ceremony, recalled in an interview the commission's review 15 years ago, which included visiting 10 different police buildings in the area. The survey underscored the many deficiencies of Palo Alto's police headquarters, including its lack of sufficient space for evidence storage, code-compliant holding cells and sally ports (secured entryways for people in custody).

"When you put it up against other buildings, you can't even make a comparison," Ojakian said.

In the 15 years since the report, the council has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to moving ahead with a new public safety building, though its plans were repeatedly derailed by high costs and a lack of a suitable site for the new public safety building. The effort gained momentum in 2014 after a specially appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Committee listed the new facility as a top priority and the City Council included it in its infrastructure plan.

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In February, after some debate about whether the project should be deferred yet again in light of the city's ongoing budget challenges, the council voted to approve a $92.3 million contract with Swinerton Builders to construct the facility, which will house the Police Department and Fire Department headquarters as well as the city's Office of Emergency Services.

Palo Alto City Council members and city staff sink shovels in the dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for the city's new public safety building on June 2, 2021. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

Swinerton also completed last year the construction of the city's new parking garage, which is located on an adjacent site at 350 Sherman Ave.

Mayor Tom DuBois, who attended the Wednesday ceremony along with Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Alison Cormack and Greer Stone, called the public safety building a "huge project" for the city.

"This has been in the works for a very long time," DuBois said. "It's very hard sometimes to get large projects like this off the ground, so it's quite an accomplishment. I think we should all be proud of finally getting this project going."

The project is scheduled to be completed in summer of 2023.

Watch the full groundbreaking ceremony:

City of Palo Alto leaders break ground on the public building safety project at a ceremony on Sherman Avenue on June 2, 2021.

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Palo Alto breaks ground on new public safety building

Council members, staff celebrate long-awaited project

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 2, 2021, 12:54 pm

Donning hard hats and reflective vests, Palo Alto leaders gathered in a dirt-packed lot near California Avenue on Wednesday morning to mark the beginning of the city's largest and most long-awaited infrastructure project: the construction of the new public safety building.

For a city that has been in social distancing mode since March 2020, the ceremony represented in some ways a return to normal as council members and staff mingled inside the gated construction site before proceeding to flip dirt with ceremonial shovels. For former Mayor Vic Ojakian, who in 2006 served on a blue ribbon task force that first recommended replacing the Police Department's undersized and seismically vulnerable headquarters at City Hall with a larger and safer structure, the event felt long overdue.

Ojakian, who attended the ceremony, recalled in an interview the commission's review 15 years ago, which included visiting 10 different police buildings in the area. The survey underscored the many deficiencies of Palo Alto's police headquarters, including its lack of sufficient space for evidence storage, code-compliant holding cells and sally ports (secured entryways for people in custody).

"When you put it up against other buildings, you can't even make a comparison," Ojakian said.

In the 15 years since the report, the council has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to moving ahead with a new public safety building, though its plans were repeatedly derailed by high costs and a lack of a suitable site for the new public safety building. The effort gained momentum in 2014 after a specially appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Committee listed the new facility as a top priority and the City Council included it in its infrastructure plan.

In February, after some debate about whether the project should be deferred yet again in light of the city's ongoing budget challenges, the council voted to approve a $92.3 million contract with Swinerton Builders to construct the facility, which will house the Police Department and Fire Department headquarters as well as the city's Office of Emergency Services.

Swinerton also completed last year the construction of the city's new parking garage, which is located on an adjacent site at 350 Sherman Ave.

Mayor Tom DuBois, who attended the Wednesday ceremony along with Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Alison Cormack and Greer Stone, called the public safety building a "huge project" for the city.

"This has been in the works for a very long time," DuBois said. "It's very hard sometimes to get large projects like this off the ground, so it's quite an accomplishment. I think we should all be proud of finally getting this project going."

The project is scheduled to be completed in summer of 2023.

Watch the full groundbreaking ceremony:

Comments

Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2021 at 2:16 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 2, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Can you talk more about the ground breaking ceremony? I saw reference to it on the City website with the description that it was "invitation only." How inappropriate and ironic -- yet typical for this City Council -- to make a groundbreaking celebration for a "public" building a strictly private event.

Who was invited to this ceremony? Did they check invitations at the entrance (is there an entrance to the parking lot where this new police headquarters and jail is located?). Why would they have restricted attendance at an outdoor event on public land to celebrate a public building to "invitation only?" Please say more.


Luther Payne
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jun 2, 2021 at 8:48 pm
Luther Payne, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jun 2, 2021 at 8:48 pm

So the new police station will also have jail? If so, this is a nice throwback to the old days when the police would pick you up for public intoxication and then let you sleep it off overnight before releasing you in the morning to go to work.


Len Ely
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2021 at 10:56 am
Len Ely, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 10:56 am

I now understand why it is called a "Public Safety Building" rather than a "Police Station". As currently if you call the police department for help they tell you to go "online" or they send a "Public Safety Office" rather than a "policeman or woman".


Justin Riever
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 3, 2021 at 12:04 pm
Justin Riever, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 12:04 pm

>>As currently if you call the police department for help they tell you to go "online" or they send a "Public Safety Office" rather than a "policeman or woman".

The standard phone response via their answering machine is...

"If this is a life-threatening emergency please call 911."

"Otherwise please use the business number listed for all other inquiries."

Your PAPD at work.

Lastly, if the PAPD is so overworked why don't the PAPD Reserves step up and fill-in other than simply directing Stanford football traffic?


peppered
Registered user
Community Center
on Jun 3, 2021 at 12:45 pm
peppered, Community Center
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 12:45 pm

Wanna bet that:
a) It will cost more than $92.3 million. Much more.
b) It won't be completed by Sept 22, 2023.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2021 at 1:12 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 1:12 pm

A) How many library days and days of school crossing guards will this cost?

B) How many days of community patrol will this cost?

C) How may accurate reports of crime will will this coast? (Still waiting for reports on 3 major incidents that have never appeared in the police blotter)

D) How many bike and catalytic converter thefts will this cost while the city wastes more money to tell us to bike and the police don't bother to respond?


Edward Jones
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 3, 2021 at 1:41 pm
Edward Jones, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Concerned Palo Altans could consider creating a civilian patrol where residents on bikes, on foot and in cars circle their respective neighborhoods and then report any suspicious activities.

Stay at home residents could also take regular peeks out their front and side window as well.

Smartphone cameras + their call/text options could easily be used to alert the PAPD in the event officers were out patrolling other areas or on a coffee/pastry break.

The new public safety building represents an ongoing commitment on the part of the City of Palo Alto to symbolically ensure the personal safety and well-being of its residents and guests.


Rose
Registered user
Mayfield
on Jun 3, 2021 at 2:00 pm
Rose, Mayfield
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 2:00 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg: I happened to ride past on my bicycle as the guests were taking off their hardhats and yellow vests. There wasn't any room around the construction site for a large "public" gathering. Everything is fenced off and all you can see at this point is dirt. Once the project is completed I imagine the city might host a celebration or an open house -- when there will be sidewalks and space where people can gather. No need to complain now.


Alvin Jackson
Registered user
another community
on Jun 3, 2021 at 2:28 pm
Alvin Jackson, another community
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 2:28 pm

And rather than dwelling on past police improprieties that have taken place throughout the nation, upon nearing completion the new public safety building could include a statue of a proud and rejuvenated African American citizen with the words, "I can breathe now" below it.

This would be a step in the right direction as we all strive to evolve and improve as human beings.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2021 at 3:34 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 3:34 pm

"Concerned Palo Altans could consider creating a civilian patrol where residents on bikes, on foot and in cars circle their respective neighborhoods and then report any suspicious activities.

Stay at home residents could also take regular peeks out their front and side window as well."

@Edward Jones, those are exactly the reports that have been ignored. I'll never forget calling police dispatch about a fight taking place across the street from my house late one night. I could see them fighting and hear them yelling.

The dispatcher told me it was all resolved, thanks. So I put the phone to the window and said, "Can you hear it now? It's sure not done." She hung up on me.

I've got other examples, as do MANY posters on NextDoor and their neighbors.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2021 at 3:53 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 3:53 pm

This time last year, we were all under curfew for a week.

Why is this new police building called a public safety building? Will it keep us all safe? Will we be able to go there in time of need such as during a curfew?

Or is it a building to keep the police safe?


My Words
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2021 at 4:30 pm
My Words, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 4:30 pm

How wonderful that it's FINALLY being built! The current police station is a 60-70s throwback and the 911 dispatchers are in a basement. Maybe the anti-police people don't want our law enforcement to be comfortable, but I want to live safely in town. We have so many outsiders who come here to commit crimes.

@Bystander: The word "police" has a negative connotation these days due to the far left.

@Rebecca Eisenberg: Really? Law school taught students to harass over trivial issues that didn't affect anyone? They probably wanted their groundbreaking in peace instead of hypocrites showing up to protest (the same people who criticize police yet call them when they need help).


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jun 3, 2021 at 7:48 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 7:48 pm

I totally agree with My Words. He/she is correct. Palo Alto has a higher crime rate than it should for a nice suburb. It has a crime score of "13" on Neighborhood Scout (verifiable) which means 87% of cities in America are considered "safer." Palo Alto is higher than average for property crimes in California, and lower than average in violent crime. Palo Alto isn't the nice, charming college town it once was, and if your want a safer city -- support the police.


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 3, 2021 at 7:50 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 7:50 pm

"Public safety" is an umbrella term that includes police, fire, and emergency services. The new building is intended to serve more than just the police, so its name reflects that.


Cecelia Watson
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 4, 2021 at 9:40 am
Cecelia Watson, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 9:40 am

For some, the new public safety building serves as a right wing inspired tribute to law enforcement along with a silent re-affirmation of the current and oftentimes unwarranted police actions used against people of color.

To others, it represents an unecessary and costly fiscal municipal expenditure that will not improve the overall services or performance of the PAPD.


Lucille Manning
Registered user
Southgate
on Jun 5, 2021 at 10:30 am
Lucille Manning, Southgate
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 10:30 am

Will the new police headquarters also have dining facilities with a cafeteria?

At City Hall there is one but since the police department will be resituating, they will probably want a convenient and private venue to grab a quick meal or coffee break without having to wander down California Avenue or drive to a donut shop.


LeAnne Menendez
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2021 at 1:31 pm
LeAnne Menendez, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Hopefully the PAPD will show their appreciation for their new building by being more humanitarian in their law enforcement endeavors.

There's no need to be a bully or racist wearing a badge and packing heat.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Jun 5, 2021 at 4:01 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 4:01 pm

When do you think the city will get around to building a new Cubberley Community Center?

Cubberley is older than the current police station and the plans to replace it have been driven into a ditch with no signs of life. Maybe the 30 years from now, which is the length of time the police having been complaining about their home.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 7, 2021 at 6:06 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 7, 2021 at 6:06 pm
Rob Johnson/Captain
Registered user
another community
on Jun 7, 2021 at 6:28 pm
Rob Johnson/Captain, another community
Registered user
on Jun 7, 2021 at 6:28 pm
John
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2021 at 7:22 am
John, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 7:22 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2021 at 11:12 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 11:12 am

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