Dear Members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Police Facility,
About a week ago I wrote a blog post called "Why a new Salem police facility could cost many lives." Probably some of you have read it. I hope all of you will, now that I'm sending this current Open Letter post to you via email.
As you're aware, the charge you were given by the Mayor is described on the above-linked City of Salem web page.
The group’s work may include recommending suggestions for lowering the cost of the proposed new Police Facility, considering whether it is cost effective to include some deferred maintenance and or seismic strengthening at the Civic Center buildings (including the Library) and campus.
Even though your meeting next Tuesday apparently is intended to be your final one, it appears that you have accomplished none of these goals.
Meaning, I'm not aware that the task force has (1) definitively lowered the projected cost of a new police facility (you have no statement of what this cost should be), (2) decided whether deferred maintenance at City Hall and perhaps the Library should be part of the police facility project/bond, or (3) concluded that seismic strengthening of the City Hall and Library should be part of the police facility project/bond.
In my opinion -- and I am speaking for myself in this Open Letter, though I am part of the Salem Community Vision steering committee and concur with the SCV recommendations reproduced below -- this is a serious dereliction of duty.
I'm not much concerned about your failure to consider the deferred maintenance question, which could include renovations to City Hall, as was included in the original $80 million City of Salem proposal for a new police facility on the Civic Center campus and seismic retrofitting of the City Hall and Library.
But ignoring the need to make the Civic Center buildings earthquake-safe enough to allow the lives of occupants to be saved when (not if) the Big One Cascadia Subduction Earthquake hits -- this is a major failure of the task force.
As noted in my previous post, the basic dynamics going on here can be described in five simple points:
(1) The Police Chief correctly has told the Task Force that an $80 million bond for a new police facility and seismic upgrades to the Civic Center is too high a cost for citizens to accept.
(2) Seemingly there isn’t a way to reduce the cost of seismic upgrades, $15 million or so.
(3) So the cost of the police facility has to be reduced to be sure there is public support for both building a new police facility and doing seismic upgrades.
(4) If this doesn’t happen, and seismic upgrades are left undone, many people could die at the Civic Center when the Big One earthquake hits.
(5) But many people on the Task Force still want an over-priced police facility, so this squeezes out the money that could be saved by building a lower cost facility, and using the savings for seismic upgrades.
I hope you will discuss the need to include seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library before you arrive at your final recommendations to the City Council. Again, you were charged to do this. So far, you haven't.
Your silence on seismic retrofitting speaks loudly at the moment: We don't care about saving the lives of anyone currently at the Civic Center aside from police department staff. I find it difficult to accept that you actually believe this.
So, please, explicitly recommend that a bond for a new police facility also will include money for seismically retrofitting City Hall and the Library. If the task force doesn't do this, you will have failed the citizens of Salem.
I feel strongly about this. (Remember, I am speaking only for myself here.)
When my wife and I moved to Salem in 1977, our daughter was five. She spent a lot of time at the Library between then and when she graduated from South Salem High School in 1990. At that time I wasn't aware of the Big One earthquake danger, and how the Library would almost certainly collapse when it hits.
Now that I am, morally I can't accept any delay in seismically strengthening the Library and City Hall, especially since this was part of the original $80 million police facility project that the task force was charged with reviewing.
If a bond measure for a new police facility is submitted to voters that doesn't include money for this seismic retrofitting, I will do what I can to urge citizens to vote it down.
I'll pay for a ballot statement in opposition to the bond measure. I'll urge a "no" vote on social media. I'll write blog posts against the bond measure. I'll recruit other people to join this righteous cause.
Righteous, because it is morally abhorrent to me to value the lives of police department staff over the lives of other people who work at, and visit, City Hall and the Library. I do not consider the lives of children visiting the library, which once included my daughter, to be less valuable than the lives of police staff.
Maybe task force members disagree. If so, let's have a conversation about this ethical question.
However, if you agree with me that the lives of everyone who might be at the Civic Center during a major earthquake should be saved, then recommend at your Tuesday meeting that seismic retrofitting be part of the bond measure to be submitted to voters.