Are there better ways for Salem's citizens to spend $70 million than what City Hall is planning -- a brand new police department building and a massive redesign of the civic center, along with seismic upgrades?
Sure seems so.
That's what I learned by spending my Friday night at a meeting sponsored by Salem Community Vision, a new group formed by some old-timers with a lot of experience in architecture, construction, urban planning, and community involvement.
As reported previously, local architect Geoffrey James came up with the idea for the meeting. Gene Pfeifer, a Silverton resident with 45 years of design/build experience, chaired the discussion (he was instrumental in finding a way to fix Courthouse Square's structural problems).
Here's my three major takeaways from listening to some highly knowledgeable and experienced people talk about what is right and wrong with how the City of Salem is going about the planned $70 million civic center renovation.
(1) Seismic upgrades and a new police department building are needed. There was no debate about the need to earthquake-proof the Salem Library and remainder of the Civic Center. Nor about the need for a new police headquarters. So on these points the Salem Community Vision attendees and City officials are in full agreement. But...
(2) There are better ways to do this than what the City is planning. Let's break apart the price tag for the above-mentioned goals. Salem Community Vision is going to ask the City for its own cost estimates, but last night some reasonable assumptions were made.
Recently the City of Eugene, which is almost exactly the same size as Salem, built a new police department building for $17 million. This video shows how it was done, and what Eugene got for that money.
Eugene rebuilt an existing office building away from the civic center. Geoffrey James showed a slide with a number of locations around Salem where the same thing could be done here.
But in 2010-2011, when students from the University of Oregon's Sustainable Cities Initiative were asked to come up with ideas for a new police department building, they were told by the City to restrict their planning to the civic center area.
The City of Salem asked students in a University of Oregon Architecture studio course to develop a 75,000 square foot police station within the four- block Civic Center site.
So let's assume that Salem could do what Eugene did: build a spiffy functional, large, earthquake proof police department headquarters for $17 million by renovating an existing building away from the civic center.
That leaves seismic upgrades for the Library, City Hall, and parking structures.
Last night an estimate of $15 million to $25 million was made by knowledgeable experts. Using the higher figure this leaves us with a total cost of $42 million: $17 million for a new police department, $25 million for civic center seismic upgrades.
Way below the City's proposed $70 million bond measure, which probably is an under-estimate -- given the City's prior inability to forecast costs of big-ticket projects accurately. So likely there are ways to halve the cost of the City's current civic center/police department plan, while getting almost all of the benefits.
The "benefits," which to many at the meeting actually were negatives, include doing away with much of the Peace Plaza to make room for a new City Council meeting room, along with reducing the size of Mirror Pond.
Thus there was a clear consensus that the City needs to rethink its basic assumptions about this project, especially since up until now planning for the renovations and new police department has been shrouded in secrecy.
Which gets me to...
(3) The City of Salem needs to be much more open and collaborative. Over and over, including last night, I've heard long-time community volunteers/activists say "I've never encountered a Salem city government that is so closed, suspicious, and secretive."
Frustrations are extreme. And from what I've both observed from afar and personally experienced, justified.
The standard operating procedure of City Hall these days is to make a closed-door decision among top staff, elected officials, and a few handpicked insiders, then try to sell that decision to a public that wasn't previously involved in (or even informed about) the planning process.
This is a horrible way to manage any enterprise, especially a government entity.
It goes against the principles of good management that apply to public and private organizations alike (rigid top-down control went out of fashion a long time ago) and the special requirements of publically financed transparency.
Somewhere along the line officials at the City of Salem lost touch with a simple guiding principle: they are public servants. Disturbingly, I don't see anyone -- not the City Manager, not the Mayor, not City Councillors, not top management -- speaking out about how public involvement is being willfully disregarded and disrespected.
In a freshly put up Public Safety and Civic Center page, the City admits that it has only now started community outreach in an attempt to garner support for a $70 million bond measure. Problem is, the City has already spent years deciding what it wants to do with that $70 million (which, again, could end up being more like $90 million).
It's like a car salesman who says, "What sorts of options do you want on this $70,000 car that my dealership will be pleased to finance for you today?"
You reply, "Hey, how about that $40,000 car over there? That will fit our needs fine, thank you. Please don't try to sell me something I'm not interested in; it's my money at stake here, not yours."
Hopefully the City of Salem will belatedly realize that citizens are tired of being presented with already-decided policies and projects. Involve Salemians early on and often, city officials, not late and rarely. For your own self-interest, as well as the public interest.
Ignoring people until you want their approval for something isn't a good way to be successful. Either in sales, or in goverment service.
In December 2011, Council received a report on 4 general concepts:
1. Urban Redevelopment Site
2. Suburban Bare Land Site
3. Existing Building Retrofit Site
4. Civic Center Site
Here are some brief notes -
And here is the report -
The report also contains cost estimate breakdowns, and perhaps James and Pfeifer could review these preliminary budgets and offer a more specific critique of the budgeting. Maybe they will still say that the $60-70M figure is way too high, or maybe they will find there are good reasons the project would be more expensive than Eugene's.
I think that the SCI students were given a narrower scope and focus for the project just so that ideas weren't "all over the place."
The City has not been as forthcoming as they might be, but to say everything was "closed door" is not true. The information has been out there!
Posted by: Breakfast on Bikes | October 19, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Breakfast on Bikes, I realize that you haven't been following this issue closely, as others have. I've read emails from several people who have tried to find out what the City has been up to the past few years regarding the Civic Center renovation/police building planning.
They report that the attitude of the City has been "top secret!" Very little information has been forthcoming. This is borne out by the fact that the City only put up its web page about the project recently, after people put pressure on officials to reveal how they've been spending tens of thousands of dollars on consulting contracts.
Check out the "Timeline of Council Actions." Doesn't appear to be any public meetings, or any full council decisions. Putting a report on a web site doesn't count as public involvement. Soliciting and listening to public input about the design of Civic Center renovations and the location of a new police building would count. But that never happened.
Now the public is being presented with a done deal. Not the way the City of Salem should be doing the public's business.
Posted by: Brian Hines | October 20, 2013 at 12:09 AM
Great post Brian. You pretty much nailed it. As I said in the meeting, I still think our horribly ugly City Hall is a tear down, but we may not be able to afford to start from scratch. But I also am concerned though that decisions about the Civic Center need to be made in sync with decisions about what happens across the street at the Boise Cascade site. Something tells me there is a chance that he City eventually is going to have to condemn that property and buy it from Mr. Tokarski. If we don't it may just sit there for years. The ideas about turning the old Boise plant into the new City Hall and Police Dept. may not be all that far fetched, if the City is going to have to buy that property anyway to solve an urban blight problem.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | October 20, 2013 at 09:41 AM
C'mon Brian. "Now the public is being presented with a done deal"? Why can't you admit BoB has a point, you overstated the situation, and leave it at that? Citizen engagement that's the result of inflammatory rhetoric is not the kind of citizen engagement that will make Salem a better place to live.
Posted by: Sarah Owens | October 21, 2013 at 11:50 AM
Sarah, please explain how what I said is wrong, instead of just making seemingly unjustified "inflammatory rhetoric" of your own. Specifically, respond to how you see these assertions as being untrue:
(1) That the City has settled on a location for a new police department building at the civic center.
(2) That the City has settled on a conceptual plan for civic center renovations that involves building a new council chambers building on/adjacent to Peace Plaza, demolishing the old council chambers, and (as noted above) building a new police department building on/adjacent to Mirror Pond.
(3) That the City has settled on a substantial remodeling of the civic center that includes new construction, rather than a much less expensive seismic retrofitting of the existing buildings.
If you can't refute these statements, then I haven't overstated the situation. I look forward to your reply.
Posted by: Brian Hines | October 21, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Okay, Brian, you asked me to "please explain how what I said is wrong" and to justify my assertion that your blog contains inflammatory rhetoric.
To do that, I must refer first to the statement I cited in my response, which you made in response to BoB's comment, and then to your blog, which was the subject of BoB's comment. I will not speak to your 3-point restatement because my response did not make any assertions concerning it.
First the statement I cited in my response, "Now the public is being presented with a done deal." It is simply incorrect to characterize the current state of the Civic Center project as a "done deal." It is, at most, a proposal, with what you refer to as some "basic assumptions", which most proposals contain. "Basic assumptions" do not constitute a "done deal."
Second, the statements I considered inflammatory rhetoric (i.e., non- or counter-factual):
1) "[U]p until now planning for the renovations and new police department has been shrouded in secrecy." I consider the "shrouded in secrecy" to be IR for the reasons stated in BoB's response.
2) "I've heard long-time community volunteers/activists say 'I've never encountered a Salem city government that is so closed, suspicious, and secretive.'" Attributing sentiments to unnamed individuals and without context and using quotation marks to imply the statements were in fact made by the unnambed individuals is IR.
3) "Frustrations are extreme." Not stating whose frustrations, what the frustration is about, or how you know the frustration is extreme makes it IR.
4) "[F]rom what I've both observed from afar and personally experienced, [the alleged frustration is] justified." Not saying what you've observed "from afar" or experienced, or otherwise giving a basis for saying the frustration is justified makes it IR.
5) "The standard operating procedure of City Hall these days is to make a closed-door decision among top staff, elected officials, and a few handpicked insiders, then try to sell that decision to a public that wasn't previously involved in (or even informed about) the planning process." The phrase, "standard operating procedure" is not supported by any facts, the words "closed-door", "handpicked", and "sell" are inflammatory, and the remainder is contrary to fact, for the reasons given in BoB's response. The statement is IR.
6) "This is a horrible way to manage any enterprise, especially a government entity." The word "horrible" is IR.
7) "It goes against the principles of good management that apply to public and private organizations alike (rigid top-down control went out of fashion a long time ago) and the special requirements of publically financed transparency." Assumes facts not established in your blog or elsewhere, fails to state what "principles" and "special requirements" have been violated, and is, therefore, IR.
8) "Somewhere along the line officials at the City of Salem lost touch with a simple guiding principle: they are public servants." Completely unsupported IR.
9) "Disturbingly, I don't see anyone -- not the City Manager, not the Mayor, not City Councillors, not top management -- speaking out about how public involvement is being willfully disregarded and disrespected." The words "disturbingly" is IR, and the words "willfully disregarded and disrespected" have no basis and are, at best, IR. Further, it's ridiculous to criticize city officials for not speaking out about something that has not occurred (see BoB's response).
10) "The City admits that it has only now started community outreach." The word "admits" is IR, because it implies the City should have started community outreach sooner, which is merely arguable. See BoB's response.
11) "The City has already spent years deciding what it wants to do with that $70 million." The statement is not supported by any facts.
12) "It's like a car salesman who says, "What sorts of options do you want on this $70,000 car that my dealership will be pleased to finance for you today?" Comparing the City to a car salesman is IR.
13) "Hopefully the City of Salem will belatedly realize that citizens are tired of being presented with already-decided policies and projects." Assumes without providing a basis in fact that citizens have been presented with "already-decided policies and projects."
14) "Ignoring people until you want their approval for something isn't a good way to be successful. Either in sales, or in government service." Suggests the City has "ignored people" until it wants their approval without any basis in fact (see BoB response).
Posted by: Sarah Owens | October 22, 2013 at 08:40 AM
Sarah, thanks for your response. Sounds like we mainly have a stylistic difference of opinion. You favor certain words for describing certain facts and experiences, and I favor other words. That's natural; we all speak and communicate in different ways.
The key thing is the extent to which the City's current proposal is a "done deal." This will be easily testable in the days ahead.
If you are correct -- and I hope you are -- then the City of Salem will welcome alternatives to the $70 million plan to build a new police department just north of the current one, to remodel the Civic Center drastically (including building a new council meeting room near Peace Plaza), and seismically upgrade the old construction.
In other words, the City will be actively seeking other options from concerned citizens and neighborhood groups. Then those options will be considered along with the City's current proposal -- price tags, pros and cons, etc.
These alternatives will be submitted for community consideration in an open transparent process. After all, you are confident this isn't a "done deal."
On the other hand, if I am correct the City will resist hearing from citizens who favor alternatives to the current plan. When the City holds meetings about the plan, the main purpose will be to sell people on it, not to hear ideas about how other alternatives would be better and less expensive.
TIme will tell. Like I said, I hope you are right. But based on how the City has handled other policy decisions, I expect that you are wrong.
Posted by: Brian Hines | October 22, 2013 at 10:19 AM
Everyone should be free to criticize the proposed civic center renovation but the charge that it was hatched in secret is wreckless and counterproductive. People did contribute to this and all the proposals put forward as part of the Sustainable Cities Initiative. Our neighborhood association (SCAN) participated and we have some hope that the proposals for south of Mission St. will be implemented in my lifetime. But when the integrity of that process falls under attack from those that haven't been paying attention it puts progress toward those goals even farther out of reach.
The Civic Center planning documents have been on the city's website for as long as I have been paying attention:
The number one problem in Salem is not enough people are willing to go to Council meetings, go to neighborhood meetings, go to open houses, serve on committees, and contribute to the planning process. If people feel left out its likely because they excluded themselves.
And its hypocritical. One of the items on the agenda for the Salem Community Vision group is to discuss implementing the recommendations of the Urban Land Institute for the Boise property. This was a report created by a panel of experts from outside Salem with no public input! Yet Geoffery James claims this is the guiding document council is bound to follow.
It doesn't even recommend what he claims it does. It doesn't recommend adding to the Riverfront Park. It recommends even higher intensity development west of the railroad than what Mountain West proposed and it recommends accessing it directly through the Carousel playground.
Council approved the ULI report (which we are told must be followed) just as they approved the SCI proposals (which we are told should not be followed and may or may not be a product of a corrupt process). So which is it? Do our plans mean anything or not?
The whole fiasco explains a lot about why Salem can't execute its plans and remains stagnant compared to our neighbors to the north, south, and east.
Posted by: Curt | October 23, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Curt, your comment is factually challenged in several respects:
(1) The University of Oregon student project (Sustainable Cities Initiative) had a wide range of options for the civic center renovation. Dozens, if I recall correctly. And as I said in this post, the City directed the students to only consider the option of siting a new police building on the civic center property. So it isn't true that SCI had broad community involvement, because no discrete plan was settled on by the students, and what they were asked to do was circumscribed by City officials.
(2) The City did indeed develop the eventual civic center plan in a secretive manner. Has it ever been discussed and voted on at a city council meeting? Not according to the City's own website. Please share when and where the community has been asked to review and comment on alternative plans for the civic center renovation and seismic retrofitting. I doubt you'll be able to do this.
(3) The fiascos with City projects/decisions -- 3rd Bridge, Boise Cascade property, parking meters, US Bank trees -- aren't due to an excess of community involvement and citizen collaboration with City officials. These have been caused by a heavy-handed top-down management approach by City officials which went out of fashion in the 1950's, if it was even pervasive then.
Just about the only person now following the City of Salem management principles is the pointy-headed boss in Dilbert. And things don't work out so good for him. When the City makes decisions in private/secret, with minimal citizen involvement, it shouldn't be surprised when appropriate questions are raised by taxpayers and other stakeholders.
Posted by: Brian Hines | October 23, 2013 at 09:20 PM
1. Of course no discrete plan was settled on because it has been a process to explore various alternatives. This directly contradicts your fundamental premise that the city's endgame is to force one alternative on people against their will. What Jim and others are advocating for is to repurpose the Boise site for a new civic center. That would be a violation of the ULI recommendations and undermine the planning goals of the Boise site.
2. Breakfast on Bikes posted photos of an open house at the library from around 3 years ago. If you haven't been to one of these, this is how they work: Several concepts are presented and people have the opportunity to have detailed discussion with city staff, make comments and suggestions, suggest alternative not considered, and you can even give them your email address and they will forward updates to you as they are available. As the Salem Weekly documented on the parking recommendations, almost nobody attends these events.
3. Those are all examples of lack of citizen involvement and collaboration with the city. You have cited the ULI recommendations on the Boise Property (which also raised the parking issue in 2006). One of the central recommendations was to extend State Street through the Carousel parking lot to a four story mixed use development (p. 31). Extending the park, like you and others have advocated, would violate that plan by displacing this development. Putting the Civic Center across the street would violate the plan as well.
So what should the city make of your activism? Should they do what to you ask and implement the ULI recommendations? Or should they do what you ask and violate the ULI recommendations?
Salem has many plans on the books that point the way out of the 1950's anti-urban backwater that Salem is today. I have long criticized the city for not doing enough to implement them. The city is trying to implement them and its reactionary Salem citizens that are stopping them and holding up progress. One of the many reasons that, as you say, Salem sucks compared to Portland.
Posted by: Curt | October 25, 2013 at 10:57 AM