Couldn't resist taking some literary liberties with the title of this blog post.
Wanted to make last night's community forum about the City of Salem's proposal for an $80 million Civic Center project -- new police facility, seismic upgrades, and other renovations -- sound more edgy and exciting that it actually was.
But for the 90 or so people who came out on a rainy State of the Union Address night to participate in some local policy discussing, it was plenty interesting.
(Plus... before the meeting I heard Bradd Swank and Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore talking about the old days when pro wrestling matches were held at the Grand Theatre. So some of that sweaty, dramatic, toss-'em-about vibe must still pervade the venue.)
After some enjoyable guitar playing by youngster Andrew Lor (son of City Council candidate Xue Lor) and a rousing Pete Seeger-style singalong to an original song by oldster Peter Bergel, forum moderator Paul De Muniz introduced the combatants panelists.
"In THIS corner, representing the City of Salem, City Manager Linda Norris and Police Chief Jerry Moore; in THIS corner, representing Salem Community Vision, architect Geoffrey James and design/build specialist Gene Pfeifer."
Well, the intros weren't quite like that. But kind of close.
Everybody did a good job making their case in the forty-five minutes devoted to panelist presentations.
That said, I readily admit to a bias in favor of the Salem Community Vision position: locating a new police facility at a site out in the community, rather than at the Civic Center, and renovating Civic Center structures rather than tearing much of them down and building anew.
I was surprised that Norris spent most of her time defending the need for a new police facility, rather than arguing for the specifics of the City's $80 million proposal. Seemed like a bad debate strategy, since Salem Community Vision agrees that a new police headquarters is needed.
Question is, where should it be built?
Police Chief Moore, a likable guy with a pleasing sense of humor, presented some passable arguments in favor of a Civic Center location.
However, during the Q&A/comment part of the forum, he said that a main benefit of building a new $35 million police facility with expensive underground parking adjacent to (and over part of) Mirror Pond was that it would provide a more inviting "front door" to the Civic Center.
My feeling is that, sure, if Salem taxpayers were rich enough to have no problem paying for an $80 million bond measure rather than a $50 million one, why not ask them to spend an extra $30 million for mostly cosmetic improvements to the Civic Center?
But they're not. And City officials need to realize this.
Such was pointed out by James and Pfeifer, who cautioned that if the proposed November election bond measure isn't demonstrably as lean as possible, voters will reject it. As Susann Kaltwasser also said during the comment period.
She noted that Eugene voters rejected a police facility bond vote three times. Eventually city officials went with a pared-down, yet still eminently functional, project: remodeling of an existing building paid for out of existing City of Eugene funds.
The gist of Salem Community Vision's alternative plan for a less costly new police facility away from the Civic Center and City Hall renovations can be read here. CCTV filmed the forum, so before too long you should be able to view the proceedings online, or maybe on your television.
Bob Russo, chair of the Northgate Neighborhood Association, spoke about the benefits of building the police facility on Portland Road in north Salem. (See this newspaper story.)
This would help revitalize the area, which has a fairly high crime rate. Makes more sense to me than cramming a three-story structure with the aforementioned very expensive underground parking into the Civic Center, largely destroying a green space adjacent to Pringle Creek.
A few audience members, including moi, made comments about the City of Salem's lack of citizen involvement in the planning for this project -- including where a new police facility should be located. Sure seems like the taxpayers who will be asked to foot the bill should have had some say in this.
In her response to one of the commenters, City Manager Linda Norris made a curious statement: that because Salem was a large city, it didn't have a "town hall" style governance where every resident got to weigh in on decision-making. So that leaves the City Councillors to make decisions.
Wow. A classic "straw man" argument.
Nobody expects the City of Salem to operate like a Vermont hamlet with 100 residents. Frustrated citizens here just want City officials to be a lot more transparent, open, collaborative, and trusting of the people they claim to serve as public servants.
Which was the point I made in a 2-minute comment at the forum. Download Comment at forum by Brian Word. I'll include it as a continuation to this post.
If you want to read more from me on this subject, a 5-minute version, I shared a link to that in a previous post, "How City of Salem planned police facility in secretive manner." Here's the short version:
I’m Brian Hines. I have a 2-minute comment on how the City planned this project in a secretive way with almost no opportunity for citizen involvement.
I’m sure almost everybody else here agrees that government officials should carefully listen to citizens — taxpayers — often and early on in policy decisions, rather than rarely and late.
Didn’t happen with this project. Nor did it happen with other issues like cutting down the US Bank trees, putting in downtown parking meters, building a 3rd Bridge, or redeveloping the Boise Cascade property.
In 2009 the Council decided on its own, apparently with no public hearings or discussion, that a new police facility should be built at the Civic Center.
In 2011, after planning had been busily going on for two years, City Council members — repeat, City Council members — said they were concerned about not being aware of what was going on. Not to mention the general public.
The proposal we’re talking about tonight only came to light three months ago, when the City finally put up a project web site.
A Statesman Journal editorial said a flaw with the police facility and Civic Center project is that officials did not do enough to get the public involved from the outset. For sure.
A news story quoted a citizen who said “For the past two years the city has worked in a ‘secret process’ to create one design without considering other possible alternatives.”
I keep being told by old-timer community activists that current City officials are more closed-minded, secretive, and uncollaborative than any administration in recent memory. Maybe ever. This has to change.
Recently we’ve seen a great example of how community involvement leads to better decisions. Citizens outraged at a proposed land grab of part of beloved Riverfront Park — the Carousel parking lot — put the brakes on a poorly thought-out plan to redevelop the Boise Cascade property.
Now a much better plan has been developed by the City and Mountain West Investment. All because citizens got involved and said, “There is a better way.”
Same thing is happening now with this project. I hope City leaders are learning a lesson: look upon ordinary citizens who want to be involved with issues as friends to be embraced, not enemies to be pushed away.