Palo Alto's effort to rebuild and modernize the Mitchell Park Fire Station received a big boost in California's budget after Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, secured $5.2 million for the long-planned project.
The fire station project is part of a $19.6 million package of projects and programs that Berman secured in the budget, which the California Legislature approved late Wednesday night. These also include $8 million for a 136-home project for low-income residents in East Palo Alto at a city-owned parcel at 965 Weeks St.; $1.4 million to replace turf and install LED lights at Fair Oaks School in North Fair Oaks; and $2 million for a public plaza in Pescadero.
Berman, a former Palo Alto City Council member, is intimately familiar with the fire station project, having served on the city's Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force, a community group that in 2010 compiled a list of priority needs.
Fire Station 4, which is located near the intersection Middlefield Road and East Meadow Drive, was one of two fire stations on the priority list, along with the Rinconada Park station. The city completed its construction of the new Rinconada Park station in March 2020.
Some local funding for the project is included in the city's five-year capital plan, which allocates spending about $4.6 million for the $10.2 million project in fiscal year 2024. The plan describes the Mitchell Park station as "operationally and technologically deficient." The new station would be built to "essential services standards with a high likelihood of being fully operational after a major disaster such as a significant earthquake," the budget states.
Berman said in an interview that his personal experiences on the task force convinced him about the urgency of getting the fire station rebuilt.
"I've seen first-hand how quickly Palo Alto's firefighters respond to medical emergencies and I've seen the remarkably high-quality way they go about their way … but I've also seen these old, outdated fire stations and the strain that this puts on their ability to do their job," Berman said. "This is something that I support for Palo Alto, this is something I'd support for every community in my district because of the very important role that our firefighters and emergency medical professionals play, both on the firefighting front and on the medical emergency side, which is the vast majority of what they do in their jobs."
Mayor Pat Burt said in a statement that the city "greatly greatly appreciates the hard work and longtime commitment of Assembly Member Berman toward critical public safety infrastructure."
"Improvements to this station have been a community priority to ensure our public safety and emergency medical personnel have the modern and seismically secure facilities they need," Burt said.
The newly passed budget also includes $2 million for Palo Alto to replace Newell Road Bridge, a project that is part of a broad plan to improve flood protection around San Francisquito Creek. Replacing the bridge between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto would pave the way for other projects, including the replacement of the Pope-Chaucer Bridge.
State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, secured the funding for the bridge project in the record $300 billion budget that lawmakers passed Wednesday.
Becker also secured a $4.5 million grant for Menlo Park to boost its new electrification program, which aims to get people to switch from appliances that run on fossil fuels to those that run on electricity. The program will initially focus on the Belle Haven district, according to Becker's statement. And he included a $4.45 million allocation for Redwood City to convert downtown parking lots into park space, which will include a plaza, a children's play space, public art, lawn and a garden, according to an announcement from Becker's office.
Becker had proposed about $12 million in projects and programs for his Peninsula district, according to the statement.
"This funding will help improve the lives of Peninsula residents while strongly contributing to a healthier environment, strengthening pathways to skilled, good-paying jobs, fostering entrepreneurship and local business, and creating parklets in our county seat for all to enjoy," Becker said.