On Wednesday night, the task force came up with its latest iteration of possible sites for new police headquarters, a long-running process that has resulted in locations continually coming and going from the mix.
The latest list, generated Wednesday night, grew from two to five possibilities — including parking lots near California Avenue — and brought back a site formerly eliminated but once considered a strong contender. Gilman Street — a property partly owned by developer Chop Keenan and partly owned by the city — was believed to be off the table earlier this month. But task force co-chair Lanie Wheeler said Wednesday that "informal discussions" revealed the downtown locale was "not altogether out of the question."
The list also now includes parking lots near University Avenue, privately owned parcels on Park Boulevard (also near California Avenue), and the headquarters' current home on Forest Avenue.
Since its formation in February, a blue-ribbon task force has studied various options for a new police building — which advocates say is sorely needed due to the current facility's substandard condition. However, two of the group's previously preferred sites —the Downtown Library and lots in the California Avenue vicinity — drew numerous complaints from residents and merchants.
Downtown residents argued the police building should be in a commercial rather than a residential area and felt there was no viable site to relocate the Forest Avenue library. For their part, California Avenue merchants said the loss of parking would hurt business.
If the city chose to use the two California Avenue parking lots — both located on Sherman Avenue, near Birch Street — it would first replace one of the two lots with a three-story parking garage. It would then replace the other with the new police headquarters.
Merchants have argued surface parking lots were better for business than a garage. But task-force members disagreed.
"I myself don't have any problems with parking structures — as a matter of fact, I prefer them," member Ray Bacchetti said Wednesday. "I'm not sure why a good-looking parking structure that's well designed and functions well will not mitigate some of those concerns."
Proponents for locating the police building near California Avenue have cited possible advantages: It is near both the center of the city and the county courthouse.
Police volunteer George Browning, who has attended the task-force meetings but is not a member, stated one possible reason it is still under consideration: "Most of the merchants there don't live in Palo Alto and don't vote."
Two downtown parking lots — both on Emerson Street, near the Aquarius Theatre — were a new addition to the list. It's likely to raise protests from downtown merchants, especially those with shops adjacent to the site. Public Works Director Glenn Roberts said the city could trade parking spots under City Hall, currently used by police officers. However, City Hall is about four blocks away from the two lots.
To acquire either of the two privately owned properties, the city also has the option of exercising eminent domain, thus forcing the property owner to sell the land. That possibility was raised Wednesday, a sign of how eager the task force is to find a site amenable to voters.
The Park Boulevard site, located next to the California Avenue train station, has two property owners. One of them, Essex Properties Trust Inc., would consider selling it to the city, according to Mary Jensen, the company's director of investor relations.
"If it makes sense — yeah, absolutely," she said.
Also on Wednesday, a task-force subcommittee that's been studying the space needs of the Police Department said it's pared down the proposed total size of the building to approximately 45,000 square feet.
The new police headquarters is roughly estimated to cost between $30 million to $50 million, depending on where it would be located and how large it would be. The city is likely to ask residents to approve a bond measure for the money, which would require two-thirds of voters to consent.
The task force is scheduled to present its recommendation to the City Council at a study session on June 19. The council is then scheduled to make a decision about the police headquarters the following Monday, June 26.
At that same meeting, the council is also scheduled to vote on the future of the city's libraries.
Making a decision on those two longstanding issues are a priority for the council this year. The council has set June 2008 for a possible election on funding options for either or both issues.
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