Police building tops city's priority list for 2014 bond measure | September 14, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 14, 2012

Police building tops city's priority list for 2014 bond measure

Palo Alto plans to form citizens committee, hire communication strategist to assist with infrastructure bond

by Gennady Sheyner

While the nation is fixated on the heated presidential race and the slew of state and local measures that will populate the November ballot, Palo Alto officials are looking two years ahead and methodically laying the groundwork for a 2014 measure they hope will help them resolve the city's infrastructure woes.

The measure, which the City Council plans to discuss Tuesday evening, Sept. 18, is a major component of the city's plan to fix up aged infrastructure and replace obsolete buildings. The city's most glaring infrastructure need is a new public-safety building, a prize that has been eluding elected officials for nearly a decade. A recent report from the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission has described the cramped police headquarters at City Hall as "unsafe and vulnerable," echoing prior findings by various panels and experts. The task force's report notes that when public-safety facilities "decline into substandard or unsafe conditions, both those who use them and the community that depends on them are in jeopardy."

The public-safety building, which would house Palo Alto's police headquarters, its fire administration and its Emergency Operations Center, tops the list of infrastructure items that voters could be asked to fund with a bond on the November 2014 ballot, according to a new report from the office of City Manager James Keene. It is not, however, the only public-safety facility on the list. It is immediately followed on the 20-project list by "fire stations," another priority that was highlighted by the recent infrastructure report.

Both Station 3 at Embarcadero Road and Station 4 at East Meadow and Middlefield are more than 50 years old and lack sufficient space, the report noted. The city has found these buildings to have "extensive structural, code, and operational deficiencies," and a 2005 study noted that they fail to meet a laundry list of state and federal requirements, including the California Building Code, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

"Both Stations 3 and 4 are earthquake vulnerable, lack sufficient space for emergency supplies, lack safe separation of living quarters from the fumes of engines and hazardous materials, and can barely hold the two engines located at each as those vital pieces of equipment have grown in size and capacity over the years," the commission report stated.

The report estimated the cost of building new public-safety headquarters at $65 million. Replacing Station 3 and Station 4 is expected to cost around $6.7 million and $7.5 million.

The commission had recommended going to the voters this year with a measure that would fund new public-safety facilities. But the council decided in May that the city shouldn't rush into a measure aimed at raising revenue for infrastructure. Instead, members decided to spend time evaluating the various infrastructure projects, polling the community and designing a measure that would have the best chance of passing.

At the May 21 meeting, Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd argued that passing a bond measure is "very, very difficult" and said the city needs to have a "clear understanding of what it is we want to put out there."

The council's cautious approach was informed by the city's recent experiences with bond measures. In 2002, a measure that sought a $49.1 million bond to renovate and expand the Children's Library and to build a new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center flopped with 61.7 percent of the voters supporting it, short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.

Voters were more receptive in 2008, when they approved a $76 million bond to rebuild the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, renovate Downtown Library and expand Main Library. Measure N passed with the support of 69 percent of the voters.

The same year, however, the council considered including a new police headquarters as part of the bond package. It refrained from doing so after poll results indicated that the measure would likely fail.

But while the council agrees that the public-safety building is the city's most urgent priority, it's not clear whether the November 2014 measure will include this facility. This week, council members heard a proposal from San Francisco-based commercial developer Jay Paul Company that would bring two dense office buildings to 395 Page Mill Road along with a garage on Park Boulevard that would also house the city's new police headquarters. Though council members didn't vote on the proposal, they generally supported the concept.

If the Jay Paul deal were to proceed, the 2014 ballot measure could target another item on the city's list of coveted infrastructure projects. These include improvements to Byxbee Park, which until recently housed the city's landfill and composting operation; a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek; and deferred repairs to aged sidewalks, parks and buildings.

The new report from Sheila Tucker, assistant to City Manager James Keene, identifies the factors that staff believes contributed to the success of the 2008 library measure. These include the degree of the city's planning in the early stages, the community's knowledge about the issues involved, the type of funding measure selected, extent of community and media support and viability of the community campaigns.

The report suggests hiring a communication strategist and a public-opinion expert to gather data and assist the city with outreach. It also proposes creating a citizen advisory committee whose purpose would be "to supplement city leadership with external community partners and leaders to build broad-based consensus, provide input to finance-measure planning, and to be visible partners in supporting the city's efforts."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 13, 2012 at 10:30 am

No way.

Not while we're still paying ridiculous out of market defined benefit pensions to a bloated city bureaucracy, not to mention wasting money on pet projects such as bike bridges, children's theater, etc.

Palo Alto voters are a saavy, informed lot. They know how rich this city is, and that the inability to pay for infrastructure is a result of city government's mismanagement of the large revenue base that it is already afforded.

I have a suggestion. Put out RFPs for all city functions except police, and let the private sector bid in and deliver the services at market rate. That will quickly fix the pension issue (a major fiscal disaster waiting to happen that the city council seems completely overwhelmed and ill equipped to address) and take care of the wasting of taxpayer dollar on the overpayment of city workers (the infamous "100K street sweepers" come to mind).

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2012 at 10:37 am

And hidden away at the end of the article is a recommendation to hire two more people to do what?????

The mismanagement of city funds is glaring. I do think we need a new police building and probably new fire stations, but what we don't need is all the chiefs and admin that we have. How about firing the chiefs, keeping the indians, merging with local north SC County departments and streamlining the running of police and fire departments. How about saving costs by getting rid of those on the top and spending more money on those that do the work.

As it is we have too much money being spent on things we consider luxuries and can't find enough money for infrastructure.

Stop it already.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2012 at 11:25 am

Why do the comments about the police building always sound like the writers are discussing their naughty children? The need for a new public safety building is not related to previous real or imagined poor spending practices on the part of the city government.

"I won't give you another penny until you do as I say" is a very shortsighted (and ignorant) point of view. If there is an earthquake, and there will be, all you nay-sayers are just as much at risk as the rest of us. I will get no joy out of saying "I told you so" when I can't get any help in the aftermath.

Posted by The bad news is, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2012 at 11:31 am

we've been made to pay for way too many projects from schools to libraries, bonds, parcel tax and what have you. Even though I agree that our police department needs a new, safe, home, I will vote no. We just can't afford to pay for everything any longer. Everybody is not a millionaire in Palo Alto. You would have been better off forgoing the gigantic library project and asking for your new police building back then. Sorry.

Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2012 at 11:51 am

I don't care what ANY bond measure is for this year - I am voting NO on every single bond that comes my way!
@bad news...I AGREE completely! They should have thought the whole thing through and figured out what was more important!
@resident...You better keep a safety and supply kit out in your shed. Regardless of a new or old facility, if there is an earthquake, you'll get the same "help"! They aren't adding any special underground tunnel to your house to save you! DUH!!

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

> The need for a new public safety building is not related to
> previous real or imagined poor spending practices on the
> part of the city government.

Of course it is. At issue is whether we are going to see another 30 years of poor fiscal management in Palo Alto, or we are going to see a shift towards a new day of more responsible fiscal management.

Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Agree in full with Taxpayer and Wayne Martin; to quote Taxpayer:

"No way."

Posted by public private funding, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm

This proposal made sense: Web Link "Jay Paul would spend about $26.7 million on building the shell of the police building while the city would contribute about $20.1 million to finish the project."
At $20m, you'd possibly get it to pass. Much harder to get $65m + land use issues to get it across the line.

Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Just a side note from the above mentioned quote:
"...and a 2005 study noted that they fail to meet a laundry list of state and federal requirements, including the California Building Code, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act."
Ummmm, I hope we don't have any disabled firemen out there fighting fires...do we!??!!

Posted by paco, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm

...how long is the city going to try to cram this police building down taxpayers throats. take a hint, nobody is going to vote this nonsense. Had a good laugh how "taxpayer" feels it would be a good idea to outsource city jobs. yeah right, worked great with small companies like Haliburton, KBR, CACI, etc.. who were small companies until the US government hired them to outsource government employees and now they are all Fortune 500 companies thanks to taxpayers. Great idea, since Palo Alto taxpayers are as "saavy"(sp) as you noted. Ignorance breeds stupidity.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

No way will WE vote for this. Need a police building? Buy some good trailers and roll them to whatever part of town is not under water or fallen down. We went through this Taj Mahal police building thing once before. This will not pass. This city is 'seething' angry.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

Agree... absolutely not. The city needs to learn to prioritize and stop wasting money.

And I agree with the outsourcing idea. paco above cites poorly administered no-bid federal contracts as examples why it wouldn't work here. A set of job-based, competitive-bid RPFs to the private sector will result in the work functions being delivered for greatly reduced cost. Atherton outsourced most of their city government recently to great savings.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

Absolutely not. This city spends too much on new things without fixing the infrastructure. I'm tired of the cost over-runs on libraries, the Cal Ave boondoggle, unending utility rates, their expensive mailings and their insistence on screwing up traffic.

Whenever there's a problem requiring the police to be there, they send so many cops and firemen it looks like an invasion.

Posted by GougedInMidtown, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I agree with the rest of the posters. Absolutely NOT. The city must learn to live within its means, must get its pension and wage issues under control and must focus on items of priority to citizens. Not things that are meaningless or where as in the case of the library, where they have proven to be poor stewards of the community's money and trust.

Posted by Agree with GougedInMidtown, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I too agree with the rest of the posters. The city needs to shape up and live within its more than ample needs. Get rid of excess employees and use that space. Everyone is making do with a lot lot less and here we have ever escalating utility rates and bond measures that go on and on forever and new ones as well constantly. Enough.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm

> “The need for a new public safety building is not related to previous real or imagined poor spending practices on the part of the city government.”

Oh, but it is. If the city government was fiscally responsible, it would have put away enough money for the upkeep of city infrastructure instead of letting it all fall apart. And it would not have wasted money on non-essentials, but instead would have saved for a new police building. Too late, they want us to give them MORE money after they misspent what they had.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm

It's funny how the top of that list are organizations with unions. Maybe a union should be formed for parks and other amenities.

Posted by bill, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 15, 2012 at 12:11 am

I see there are a lot of ignorant posters on this site. The need for a Public Safety Bldg. is real. Penalizing the present citizenry for sins of previous councils is irrresponsible.

Take the trouble to read the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission report (IBRC) and find out how easily we could lose our first responders when the earthquake comes. The present structure is unsafe and doesn't comply with many state mandated requirements for law enforcement buildings.

Take a tour of the present facilities and read the report instead of offering opinions without knowledge.

Posted by Roland, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 15, 2012 at 12:25 am


"Penalizing the present citizenry for sins of previous councils is irrresponsible."

If you really believe this, you've made a great argument for rolling back the ridiculous pension packages promised by previous councils, putting taxpayers and our children on the hook for underwriting out-of-market fixed returns to pay for city government pensions. Once this wrong is un-done, we can use the savings to buy a shiny new police building.

A new tax/bond, however is doing exactly what you preach against: punishing present citizenry for sins of previous councils.

Posted by John, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2012 at 1:56 am

They need to pass the bond measure to provide construction jobs so that the trade unions will vote to approve the teachers unions two tax measures. In turn the teachers unions will support the candidates the public safety unions want elected to city council in order to protect and enhance their contracts. The public safety unions will in turn support the teachers union which will push for more school bonds that will provide jobs to the trade unions at the "prevailing wage" rate.

They will all conspire to fight government & pension reform.

Posted by Union hating, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2012 at 7:58 am

I hear the argument on here quite often that council members are union sympathizers or elected because they are backed by the unions. First off, when have public safety unions backed any candidate? I don't remember the police department backing anyone in the last 10 years.

This article is specific to te real need for a new Police Department. This comes based off the facts that the building is not structurally sound. I've been on a few ridealongs and when talking to officers about getting a new building, I was told the "joke" about an earthquake and the building was that the building would collapse. They say that since the city's emergency operations center is in the PD and public safety dispatch also sits inside the PD, they don't plan on having either post earthquake. The "joke" is to stay out of the station so they don't get crushed inside like the poor dispatchers. The emergency room will be useless they say.

I don't believe the city has any record of being good with their money but I'd hate to lose the use of our police department when we may really need them because the city's past mistakes.

Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

The need for a new public safety building has been pushed to the back burner for over a decade. Providing our public safety officials with the necessary facilities, assets, and equipment is vital to the well being and infrastructure of our community. A task force was formed several years ago who overwhelmingly recommended that the city build a new public safety building.

Participating in the Citizen's Academy and having spent some time in and around the current police building, one could describe it as inadequate and dismal at best. In addition to the serious seismic issues, the facility was out grown long ago. There is sorely insufficient storage space, locker room facilities, poor prisoner detention/interview areas, and an evidence area that is comprised of a tight maze.

I am quite sure from my interaction with those working in Palo Alto public safety that they are not interested in the least in erecting some grandiose facility. All they are asking for is what virtually every other department in the county already possesses, an adequate, safe, and efficient facility. They deserve it, and we should support the implementation.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm

> “A task force was formed several years ago who overwhelmingly recommended that the city build a new public safety building.”

But the city council didn’t think it could get a bond measure passed -- and didn't have the political will to fight for it -- so decided to push it to the back burner and focus on the library bond instead.

They're willing to spend to widen sidewalks, build a bike bridge, spruce up the art center, add a $1M path between the art center and main library, add amenities to parks and promote neighborliness. But they can't afford the most important building in town.

Posted by its all good, a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

contract out the police department. problem solved.
contract out city manager. problem solved.
contract out city attorney. problem solved.
contract out contract out HR. problem solved.
contract out finance. problem solved.
vote in council members who know and understand utility dept functions. PROBLEM SOLVED!

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 18, 2012 at 9:42 am

The Palo Alto political machinery is gearing up to “Sell” the community on the idea of a bond measure to fund the infrastructure deficit.

I certainly understand the need to fix our roads and sidewalks, to underground the utility lines, and to replace the Public Safety Building before a potential disaster comes our way.

The big deception headed our way is that if you don’t support a big bond measure, you are not supporting public safety.

We do have more than a $400 million infrastructure deficit, and that happened one year at a time by spending all our revenue on operations by letting repairs fall behind or not setting aside an appropriate reserve for known future needs.

That is like a family that uses their “available” cash to take an extra Hawaii vacation each year. Then, when faced with not having enough money to keep their roof from falling in, they raid their children’s piggy banks and college education funds.

Before we go to the voters and ask for a bailout, we need to show a little financial discipline to at least provide a standard and prudent “down payment” by reducing our operating expenses to fund future infrastructure needs by more than the token $2 million that was offered in the current budget.

The formula is clear – prioritize spending on services and then reduce from the bottom. It will be uncomfortable, but not nearly as painful if we don’t do something different than the past. To borrow a commonly known question, “If you keep doing the Same Old Stuff, what makes you think you are going to have a different result?”

We can do better, and it starts with finding at least another $5 million in operating expense to reduce, and use it as a “down payment” on our future. We don’t have to look too far to see what happens when we adopt a “zero down, figure out how to pay for it later” approach.

A shared community vision on spending priorities is the only cure. We cannot accept anything less. By borrowing from our future, we will surely strangle the creativity that has made this place great, because we will be in a position of paying for our historical excesses, vs. building a brighter future. Financial discipline does not strangle, but rather preserves the opportunity to create. We can do better.

Timothy Gray, Park Blvd. Palo Alto

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