Salem has lots of unmet needs. This isn't a rich town. Many people are struggling financially. Our City Hall and Library almost certainly are going to collapse when the Big One earthquake hits.
So why is Mayor Anna Peterson and her right-wing City Council majority pushing so hard for a supersized new police facility that is double the size and cost it needs to be?
Not long ago, in 2014, they were happy with a proposal for a 75,000 square foot police facility. And with seismically retrofitting the Civic Center buildings so lives of staff and visitors won't be lost in a big earthquake.
But next Monday, February 22, the Salem City Council is having a work session where cost estimates for a supersized 148,000 square foot police facility will be discussed. Talk of seismic retrofitting has gone away as the police facility budget has grown.
I'm a big believer in asking pointed questions of government officials and demanding good answers. Below is the email message I sent today to City leaders (email@example.com).
Some of them may feel fine about children attending StoryTime at the Salem Library being crushed under tons of rubble because tens of millions of dollars were wasted on an over-priced police facility rather than seismically retrofitting the Civic Center.
But I'm not. Here's my message:
Dear Mayor Peterson, City Councilors, and other City of Salem officials:
Since the City Council will be holding a work session to discuss plans for a new police facility on February 22, and a public hearing on this issue will occur on February 29, I want to share pertinent questions/concerns about the current state of planning for a new police facility that you should address at these meetings.
I’m familiar with these questions/concerns because I wrote the Salem Community Vision position paper, “Salem’s New Police Facility: The Best Way to Achieve It.” See:
Understand: the ideas in the position paper didn’t come from me. They reflect much discussion, analysis, and public outreach undertaken over the past several years by knowledgeable members of Salem Community Vision with a lot of experience in similar policy issues.
All I did was sit down in front of a blank computer screen after volunteering to write the position paper, then ponder how to communicate this complex topic to citizens who know very little about it. That required me to ponder basic questions about a new police facility, then arrive at reasonable answers.
The questions below reflect the Salem Community Vision position paper, but this message — which I’d like to be considered public testimony — comes from me personally. I’m sharing the questions with you because they will continue to be asked by Salem citizens until persuasively and completely addressed by City officials.
I’m planning to attend the work session and public hearing with pen and notebook in hand. I look forward to learning how the Mayor, City Councilors, and City staff address these questions.
Note: the page numbers in each question refer to a part of the Salem Community Vision position paper concerning this subject. Refer to those pages for background information about the question.
(1) Given that expert consultants recently have recommended a police facility size from 75,000 to 148,000 square feet, and City officials have agreed that each of these various sizes was adequate, why should it be assumed that the current DLR Group recommendation for a 148,000 square foot facility should be accepted? [pp. 2 - 7]
(2) Since Salem has a per capita income below the state average, and poll results indicate resistance to paying more in taxes for a new police facility, in order to pass a bond doesn’t it make sense to keep the cost of a new police facility as reasonable as possible, rather than “supersizing” the facility? [pp. 8-11]
(3) Why were seismic upgrades to the Civic Center dropped as part of a Public Safety bond proposal after City officials pushed for these during the first phase of police facility planning, and the City Manager at the time said that after a major earthquake “city employees wouldn’t even be able to get out of the building alive, much less use the building”? [pp. 12-14]
(4) Given the inevitability of the Big One earthquake, isn’t it as important to save the lives of other City staff, visitors to City Hall, and patrons of the Library (including children) as it is to save the lives of Police Department employees — especially since 59% of Salem voters said they wanted to seismically upgrade City Hall and the Library and build a new police facility? [pp. 13-14]
(5) The O’Brien site north of downtown was rated much higher by DLR Group consultants than the block south of the Library. The South Central Association of Neighbors does not support the “Leslie block” site. There are numerous other reasons to prefer the O’Brien site. If any members of the City Council prefer the block south of the Library over the O’Brien site, what are their reasons? [pp. 15-19, plus https://www.facebook.com/StrangeUpSalem/posts/957917297622405 ]
(6) Since there is no pressing need to include the Willamette Valley Communications Center (911 center) in plans for a new police facility, and Salem residents shouldn’t be asked to pay the full cost of a regional 911 center, why not pursue an agreement with other agencies to share the cost of a new 911 center at a separate location rather than including it in the police facility proposal? [p. 18]
(7) What rationale could there be for using urban renewal funds to help pay for a new police facility on the O’Brien site, since this would take money away from more worthy projects aimed at vitalizing the downtown area? [pp. 16-17]
I look forward to hearing discussion of these questions at the February 22 City Council work session and February 29 City Council hearing. How well they are answered will go a long way toward determining whether Salem citizens get behind a proposal for a new police facility.