Well, we finally know how much City officials want Salem residents to pay for a new police facility: $80 million. This is the cost estimate consultants presented at tonight's City Council work session in the Library's Anderson Room.
Bottom line -- this is way too much. The cost should be half that, or even less. Salem Community Vision (I'm a member of the SCV steering committee) has been hammering on this point for several years.
Read all about it in the group's position paper, "Salem's New Police Facility: The Best Way to Achieve It."
Here's a PDF scan of the City of Salem staff report that I picked up at the work session. It contains most of the information that the consultants presented today.
Download Police Facility Planning Progress Report
I was told that their Powerpoint slides would be (or already were) available on the City web site, but I couldn't find this info when I got home. So I'll share photos of several slides that I took from my seat, along with some commentary.
Pretty clearly, Mayor Peterson (and maybe hardly anybody else) has the hots for a police facility on the block just south of the Library, between Mission and Leslie streets.
Shown in orange, it would be four stories high. Parking for visitors and police vehicles would take up the rest of the block. The entire top floor of the current Library parking structure would be taken over for Police Department staff parking, requiring the Civic Center employees who currently park there to go elsewhere.
This option would cost $79,439,000. Concerns were raised by city councilors about:
-- How the large four story, 148,000 square foot building would fit in with the current single family residences to the east. (The SCAN neighborhood association has come out against a police facility on this site.)
-- The "tunnel effect" of having the police facility right across the street from the Meridian apartments/condos. The views of residents on the east side of the Meridian certainly wouldn't be enhanced.
-- Buying up the many existing homes and businesses on the block south of the Library, which also means taking the property off of tax rolls.
The other site being considered for a new police facility is the old O'Brien Auto Group property just north of downtown. This slide showed how a four story 148,000 square foot building would fit on the site.
Surface parking for visitors and staff would be in the two lots on the right side. Two level (ground floor and upper level) structured parking for police vehicles/staff would be on the north side of the property along Commercial street.
Surprisingly, the cost for the O'Brien site came in a bit higher: $81,397,000. I say surprisingly because the site is much larger than the block south of the Library, with much more room for surface parking, and also is close to an existing City-owned parking structure -- the Marion Parkade, just 600 feet or so away.
Discussion of using the Marion Parkade to lower the cost of structured parking on the O'Brien site fueled my suspicion that Mayor Peterson (and maybe other City officials) have their thumb on the scale, police facility planning-wise.
Meaning, their desire to have a police facility built on the block south of the Library is going hand-in-hand with some questionable planning for the O'Brien site.
For example, Councilor Andersen raised this obvious point: since the consultants are recommending taking over the top floor of the Library parking structure for police department use to save parking construction costs, why are the same consultants only recommending that 45 spaces in the Marion Parkade be used for a police facility at the O'Brien site?
Andersen asked if anyone knew how many empty parking spaces there are in the Marion Parkade. Amazingly, none of the consultants, nor any City staff, said anything. Andersen then presented the correct answer: over 600, even during the peak usage time.
I confirmed Councilor Andersen was correct by doing some Googling of "Marion Parkade utilization" when I got home from the work session. This image is part of a 2014 parking report. It shows that the Marion Parkade is only 40% full during the peak hour of 1-2 pm, and usage has declined from 2012.
So why did the consultants recommend building an expensive second floor of structured parking at the O'Brien site to accommodate vehicles of Police Department staff that could easily be at the Marion Parkade?
These same consultants kept emphasizing how much money was being saved at the block south of the Library by using the top floor of the existing parking structure across the street. Yet they had no answer as to why this wasn't also done for the O'Brien site, by using some of the 636 empty spaces in the Marion Parkade.
This was disappointing.
It sure looks like political pressures are being put on the consultants to make the block south of the Library appear better suited for a new police facility than it really is, while making the O'Brien site look worse than it really is.
Also disappointing: how some of the most important questions that needed to be asked about a new police facility, weren't.
Here's the questions I sent to the Mayor, city councilors, and other City officials last week -- based on the Salem Community Vision position paper. I've indicated in red what, if anything, was said about the questions at tonight's work session.
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]
The staff report does contain a cost estimate for a 125,404 square foot facility, with the 911 regional center removed, and projected growth in the number of police officers eliminated. This brings the cost down to about $70 million. Still too high, but in the right direction.
(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]
Some councilors mentioned this subject in passing, but it didn't get much attention. Apparently many City officials think that paying $80 million for an over-priced police facility that should cost half that amount, or less, won't bother Salem taxpayers when it comes time to vote on a bond measure in November 2016.
(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]
No mention at all of Civic Center seismic upgrades being pushed out of a Public Safety bond because the cost of the supersized police facility has mushroomed. But I can guarantee this issue will be raised at the November 29 City Council public hearing on the police facility, because I'm going to bring it up in my testimony. (I'll have more to say about the public hearing in a follow-up blog post.)
(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]
As above, all talk of saving lives of anyone at the Civic Center other than Police Department staff has stopped. Which to me is one of the best reasons to question the current $80 million Police Facility proposal.
(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 ]
I didn't hear any at the work session. Probably because there are few, if any, reasons to prefer the block south of the Library over the O'Brien site. A consultant did speak of how easy it would be for Police Department staff to meet with other City officials if they just had to walk across the street. But this is a bad reason to build a police facility in the wrong location.
(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]
This question was raised at the work session. Police Chief Moore said that the other agencies, which now share the cost of leasing the current 911 center space, wouldn't want to share the cost of constructing a new 911 center as part of a police facility that was owned by the City of Salem. Councilor Nanke calculated, if I heard correctly, that it would take over 80 years to break even on the cost of constructing a new regional 911 center, given the current annual leasing cost. So it looks like this is one way of reducing the size and cost of a new police facility: ditch the inclusion of a new WVCC 911 center, which is fine where it is now.
(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]
Pleasingly, the staff report only included $1,086,000 of urban renewal funding for the O'Brien site, which wold pay for "off-site costs." Maybe this is for the roundabout needed to improve traffic flow near the site. Even better would be not using ANY urban renewal funding for the O'Brien site.
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.
As noted above, in a few days I'll write another post about the February 29 City Council hearing. Citizens need to weigh in on the current over-priced police facility plan. Nothing I heard tonight caused me to doubt the wisdom of the Salem Community Vision position.
Salem voters should be asked to approve a $50 million bond measure that includes full funding for a $30 million police facility at Commercial and Division streets, along with $20 million for seismic upgrades and other renovations at the Civic Center.