Bad timing. The Salem City Council scheduled tonight's 6:30 pm work session on the new police facility at the same time as the Final Four Championship game between Villanova and North Carolina.
Since I want to attend the work session to see what new political craziness the folks at City Hall will unleash on unsuspecting citizens, and also want to come home ASAP after the work session and immerse myself in my recorded finale of March Madness, I figured I'd write most of a blog post report on the work session beforehand.
That way I can sit at the meeting, laptop in my lap, and type in red-tinged answers to the questions below -- the most important topics Salem's Mayor and city councilors should address regarding the size and cost of a new police facility, and making seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library to save lives when the Really Big One earthquake hits.
For background, refer to the City of Salem staff analysis, "Police Facility Planning Progress Report."
Download 4_4_16 City Council Work Session Materials FINAL
Next day "bottom line" update: As you can read in red below, I left the City Council meeting at 10 pm, worried that my head was going to explode after sitting through 3 1/2 hours of meandering unproductive discussion that, pretty clearly, was going nowhere. This morning I watched the CCTV video meeting to see what I missed at the very end of the meeting.
(Aside from the freaking great Final Four championship match between Villanova and North Carolina, which I watched a recording of when I got home -- by far the best part of my evening.)
At the time I left, Councilor Andersen had made a motion to settle on the smaller-sized 125,000 square foot police facility plan that leaves out a new 911 center and saves about $11 million. As almost always happens with Andersen motions (he's the most progressive member of the right-wing council), a substitute motion was quickly made.
That motion was the one that passed. It basically leaves everything the same, asking the consultants to come back with a revised cost and layout plan for the original 148,000 square foot police facility on a smaller site -- since a decision has been made to save the dental clinic on the north end of the O'Brien property.
So like I surmised, nothing was really accomplished last night.
The Mayor and City Council haven't settled on a size for the police facility. They haven't determined whether seismic upgrades to the Library and City Hall should be part of a public safety bond. They aren't sure whether a 911 call center should be part of the new police facility. And they never got around to discussing the polling/survey data that was supposed to be part of the meeting agenda.
(1) Will the City Council hold firm on plans for a supersized 150,000 square foot, $81 million "police palace"?
This proposal developed by Chicago consultants has been widely criticized, since just a few years ago City of Salem officials were advocating a 75,000 square foot police facility for a bit more than half the cost.
Councilor Tom Andersen asked for a revised size/cost estimate that doesn't include a new 911 call center. Combined with another change in where an Emergency Operations Center would be located, the staff analysis says this would reduce the size of the police facility to 125,350 square feet.
I recall that Andersen also asked for square footage changes based on slower assumed growth in the number of Salem police officers. This request seems to have been ignored by City staff.
It'll be interesting to see if the Mayor and city councilors bend on the 150,000 square foot/$81 million plan. They should. But at present City Hall is led by Big Spending Conservatives in the mold of George W. Bush.
Meaning, they claim to like low taxes and frugal government spending. Except when wasteful government spending will help private business/special interests, in this case the local construction industry.
It's 9:05 pm. The City Council has been discussing plans for the new police facility for 2 1/2 hours. Confusion reigns. Mayor Peterson quote: "I think we're getting very confused." Councilor Andersen quote: "This is our third meeting. This is more confusing now than at the start."
Most of the talk has been about how much parking is needed for police department staff, and whether a new 911 center should be part of a new police facility. Andersen kept asking why an expensive structured parking level was needed, when 600 spaces go unused at the nearby Marion Parkade.
Some councilors were aghast at the notion that police department employees would have to walk 200 yards or so at night, or in the rain. Nobody really understood how many parking spaces were needed for what sorts of purposes. Another meeting seems in the cards...
At the moment Andersen is making good points about the risk of building too big, wasting money on an over-sized police facility. He's calling for another work session, and also a public hearing. The Mayor just said that they need another meeting to settle on the correct size and price.
I thought this is what they were going to decide on tonight. Which is why I just spent 2 1/2 hours at this work session. I sure am happy that I don't have to sit through these sorts of semi-chaotic City Council meetings very often.
My sympathies to those who do. It seems pretty damn clear that they're not going to come to any decision about the desired size and cost of the police facility. AGAIN.
Ooh... Mayor just asked if the Council wants to go with the original $81 million plan, or the $70 million reduced alternative that eliminates the 911 center.
(2) Will a previous plan to make the Library and City Hall earthquake-safe be brought back to life?
One reason lots of citizens have been opposed to the current "supersized" police facility is that it squeezes out funds for making seismic upgrades to Civic Center buildings, which almost certainly will collapse when the massive Cascadia subduction zone earthquake hits.
Seismic upgrades were included in the previous 75,000 square foot "Public Safety" bond plan.
Now they've been dropped, which outrages people like me who believe that if it is vital to save the lives of Police Department staff by getting them out of earthquake-unready City Hall, it is equally vital to save the lives of everybody who works at or visits City Hall and the Library -- including children at StoryTime.
Here's another major irritation: a quasi-push-poll survey commissioned by the City of Salem asked a sample of voters if they would be more likely to support a police facility bond if cost savings from facility construction were used for seismic upgrades to the Civic Center. The staff report says:
The poll conducted by the City (discussed in greater detail below) included a question to gauge whether the potential use of savings for seismic work would increase support for a bond measure.
But the staff report also says the obvious, something that I and others pointed out as soon as this bizarre idea surfaced to somehow pay for $20 million (now $26.6 million) worth of seismic upgrades by supposed cost savings on a $81 million police facility project put out for competitive bidding.
At the February 29, 2016 public hearing, Council discussed whether potential savings from the Police Facility project could be used to fund some seismic strengthening of the buildings on the Civic Center campus. The revised cost estimates for the Police Facility project show a contingency of 9% on the project or $5.44 million. It is unlikely that the project will be completed with adequate savings to make a measurable impact on the seismic strengthening need of Civic Center buildings, which is currently estimated at approximately $26.6 million (in 2016 dollars).
Deeply irritating. Borders on sleazy. (Maybe even crosses the border.) City staff knew that any cost savings wouldn't be enough to pay for seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library.
Yet this possibility was included in the DHM Research survey. The hope was voters would be more likely to favor an $81 million bond if illusory construction cost savings would pay to make the Civic Center earthquake-safe. Thus not only was the survey a quasi-push-poll, it was a deceptive quasi-push-poll.
In the past almost-three-hours there's been exactly one comment about this. Councilor Andersen said, basically: "One way to settle on a price is to say 'This is how much we want to spend on a new police facility; give us a plan for that budget.' We need to pass a bond measure. I want the price tag low enough to add in $20 million for earthquake-proofing City Hall and the Library."
This made perfect sense. So naturally what Andersen said got exactly zero response from the Mayor and other city councilors. Whoa... Councilor Bennett just said that he wants to talk about seismic upgrades to the Civic Center at another meeting. He wants to get "this thing" aimed at the ballot some time in May.
Andersen wants a Public Safety bond that includes money for seismic upgrades to the Library and City Hall. Irritatingly, Bennett said that a figure of $20 million for the seismic upgrades has been thrown around, but no one knows where it came from. He doesn't realize that this figure came from City of Salem cost estimates prepared by consulting firms.
(3) Will $6 million in downtown urban renewal funds be used to help pay for the new police facility, rather than being used to help revitalize downtown?
This bad idea is discussed in the staff report.
Use of urban renewal to secure the property provides the greatest flexibility in achieving this goal. The O’Brien site is within the Riverfront Downtown Urban Renewal Area and the property may be acquired, following an urban renewal plan amendment, for a future Police Facility or other redevelopment. The revised total project budget assumes purchase of the property using urban renewal funds.
It's a horrible idea for several reasons. First, there are much better ways to spend downtown urban renewal money. I talked about this in "Salem police facility could waste $20 million of downtown urban renewal funds."
Second, the police facility almost certainly will be exempt from paying property taxes (unless the O'Brien site property is leased to the City of Salem and kept in private ownership). Today the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger talked about this in "Stuck with Posters and Slogans for Earthquake."
The idea of using $6 million in urban renewal funds for buying the O'Brien property is a lousy use for urban renewal funding. If the goal of urban renewal is increasing property values and increasing the assessed valuation of property, applying urban renewal funds to property that will be taken off the tax rolls, and therefore will reduce the total assessed value of property, is pretty close to an outright contradiction.
If we are going to be using urban renewal funding for a large project, we should make sure that it has a realistic probability of increasing the assessed value of property. Helping out on a commercial redevelopment does that. A new police station probably does not.
So it'll be interesting to see how the Mayor and city councilors come down on this issue in tonight's work session.
A majority seems to be against using $6 million urban renewal funds to purchase the O'Brien property. Using $1 million in urban renewal funds for traffic improvements in the vicinity of the O'Brien site seems like a go.
Mayor Peterson actually made sense on this issue. She said there are much better uses for downtown urban renewal funds than buying the O'Brien property.
Lastly... the Mayor just came out with a Big Lie, which she has repeated before. She said that the Courthouse Square debacle happened because the building was built "on the cheap."
I've been told by experts who were intimately involved in fixing Courthouse Square that this wasn't the problem. The problem was with construction practices, not building too cheaply.
Lastly, lastly. Cat fight! Bennett tried to get a consensus that the City Council wants the smaller 125,000 square foot building without the 911 center. Mayor Peterson interrupted him, saying, no, we still want the option of 148,000 square feet.
ASTOUNDINGLY, at 9:49 pm, after well over three hours of discussing what seemed damn obvious to me and everybody else in the room that the consultants were showing revised plans for a FREAKING 125,000 SQUARE FOOT facility. They kept saying this OVER AND OVER.
But Mayor Peterson just said that she thought this whole time they were talking about the original 148,000 square foot facility. MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE!
I'm out of here... Hopefully someone can tell me how this clown show ended up. I'm heading home. The Mayor just said that she now wants to see plans for a 148,000 square foot building on the smaller-sized site.
Oh, got to stay... Andersen is making a motion that the Council embrace the smaller/cheaper 125,000 square foot proposal without the 911 center. "I move that the staff come back with information about the reduced program."
They're discussing. Bednarz doesn't want to remove the 911 center now. Andersen replied that he wants to move this along. The Mayor is getting testy. "I want to be heard on this issue." Now Lewis is offering a revised motion, to look at both the original 148,000 square foot facility and the smaller sized facility.
GEEZ. I thought that's what this meeting was all about. Unbelievable.
I'm back to going home. Main takeaway for me: the current crop of guys/gals running City Hall are clueless about what they're doing, with the exception of Tom Andersen.
Dickey: "This feels like where we started." For sure. I'm out of here.