If you think the title of this blog post is far-fetched, think again. It's the truth: building a new police facility here in Salem could lead to many lives being lost.
It all depends on whether City officials make a wise or foolish decision.
And that may depend on the final recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Police Facility whose apparent last meeting is coming up on April 28.
The City of Salem web site describes what the task force is supposed to do.
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.
This means retrofitting City Hall and the Library so, though they would be damaged when (not if) the Big One Cascadia Subduction Earthquake hits, the lives of people in the buildings would be saved.
Currently both City Hall and the Library are expected to collapse in the Big One earthquake. This is a big reason why a new police facility is needed: presently the police headquarters is on the ground floor of the three story City Hall.
Everyone inside would be at the bottom of a "pancaked" City Hall after a major earthquake.
So the original plan by City officials was to (1) build a new police facility to current seismic standards, which are higher for a police building, since it should be usable after an earthquake, not just strong enough to save the lives of people inside, and (2) seismically retrofit City Hall and the Library, along with making some renovations to City Hall.
The price tag for both projects was $80 million. Salem Community Vision, along with other Salem citizens, saw that this was way too high.
City officials wanted what amounted to a police palace built next to, and over, Mirror Pond on the Civic Center campus, complete with very expensive underground parking. When they tried to sell this plan to the community, the resounding reply was "No way!"
Thus, as noted above, Mayor Anna Peterson ending up appointed members to a Police Facility Task Force, charging it with lowering the cost of a new police facility and considering whether seismic strengthening of Civic Center buildings should occur.
Disturbingly, at its last meeting the Task Force approved a motion that calls for a single bond measure (amount unknown) for a new police facility. There was no mention of seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library.
Do the Task Force members really believe that it is important to save the lives of police department staff when the Big One earthquake hits, but not the lives of other City of Salem employees, along with the lives of anyone visiting City Hall and the Library?
Children. Families. Senior citizens.
Here's the dilemma faced by the Police Facility Task Force, which seems to be the reason it is on track to recommend leaving people at City Hall and the Library at great risk of dying in a major earthquake:
A $50 million BOND MEASURE .. including a $30 million Police Facility and a $20 million seismic retrofit & remediation at City Hall and Library.
April 2015 ... Salem Community Vision is following the progress of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Police Facility closely and with considerable interest. Since our beginning in the fall of 2013 Salem Community Vision has supported a new police facility and seismic upgrade for City Hall and the Salem Public Library.
We appreciate that the City Council created this body to look at the issues surrounding the creation of a bond to fund the projects. It is clear to us that the original $80 million bond proposal is not favored by the public.
It is also clear that Salem needs to build a new police facility in order to provide safe and efficient service to the citizens of Salem. Also, we need to ensure the safety of citizens who use and work at City Hall, as well as the library.
After a thorough review of all the materials presented at this Task Force, as well as provided by the City of Salem from previous efforts, SCV takes the following position. Salem Community Vision believes that a single bond measure, for no more than $50 million, can be successful.
This bond allows for a well designed police facility for $30 million. Detailed cost estimates are available. It also provides $15 million for seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center buildings (City Hall and Library) and $5 million for needed renovations to City Hall. To achieve the $30 million the police facility parking should be surface parking.
Salem Community Vision supports an open public process for all decision making. Moving forward we hope that all work will be transparent and open for public input through multiple channels. We believe that only through an inclusive public process can confidence in the bond be secured and a positive outcome be achieved.
Salem Community Vision wants to be a part of the campaign to help pass the bond.
(Anyone who wants to peruse the many newspaper stories and blog posts about the police facility saga can find them on this Salem Community Vision web site page.)
Excerpt from my post, "Salem's Police Facility Task Force makes progress by going backward."
The Task Force seems to be giving up on the other half of the original $80 million City of Salem proposal: seismically retrofitting City Hall and the Library to withstand the "Big One" earthquake that is a matter of when, not if.
(Renovating City Hall also was part of the proposal, but in my view this is a nicety, while earthquake proofing the Civic Center is a must.)
I was surprised to hear someone on the Task Force say that it would be a tough sell to get voters to approve a bond to improve the Civic Center buildings.
In my public comment I said that I disagreed:
All you'd need to say is, we don't want children using the library and city employees dying in an earthquake. After all, a big reason for a new police facility is that the current one would be buried under several stories of City Hall rubble after a large earthquake. Well, if it is good to save the lives of police staff, why isn't it equally important to save the lives of library patrons and city employees?
Here's the thing: Task Force members are appropriately worried that a $70-$80 million bond measure would be voted down if it included funds for both a new police facility and seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center.
However, estimates to build a police facility range from about $30 million to $50 million. The lower cost would be for a smaller facility, with surface rather than underground parking, perhaps a ways from downtown, and with less "bells and whistles."
Seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library would cost about $15 million. So by choosing to build a lower cost police facility, a bond levy for both "public safety" projects -- new police facility, and earthquake proofing the Civic Center -- would be about $45 million.
Which is well below the $80 million of the original City of Salem proposal.
City leaders could say:
We've listened to Salem's citizens. By building a lower cost police facility with surface parking away from the Civic Center, we've lowered its cost by at least $15 million. This happens to be the cost of earthquake proofing City Hall and the Library, which will save many lives when the Big One hits. Now we're asking Salemians to pay $45 million for both projects rather than $80 million. Citizens, you're getting a good deal.
I understand the allure of building a first class police facility -- big, beautiful, monumental, right next to the Civic Center. But I don't think Salem can afford that allure, if it means many lives lost when the Library and City Hall collapse after the Big One earthquake hits.
The Police Facility Task Force needs to face this moral dilemma head-on. The decision to give up on earthquake proofing the Civic Center in favor of a single-issue police facility bond should be revisited.
Our police force is dedicated to "serve and protect." Along with firefighters, they would be the first to respond to a devastating earthquake that destroyed City Hall and the Library. They would risk their lives to save people buried in the rubble, which could include many children.
I also believe that if police officers knew that, by building a lower cost police facility away from the Civic Center that maybe wasn't ideal, but was damn sure good enough for their needs, this would save enough money to earthquake proof City Hall and the Library, they would say "Let's do it."
So... let's do it.
Budget $30 million for a new police facility and $15 million for seismically retrofitting the Civic Center. Ask voters to approve a single bond for both projects. Call it a "public safety" levy. I think it would have a good chance of passing.