Given the many unmet needs here in Salem, Oregon, it's easy to visualize lots of ways to spend $50 million.
Which happens to be how much City officials have said a new police facility could cost (though they're now backing away from that estimate, probably because they want an even more lavish police facility).
For example, I recently went on a bicycle tour of Portland's vaunted neighborhood greenways. These are streets that have been renovated in various ways to make them more biking and pedestrian friendly/safer. The cost per mile is about $250,000.
Salem currently has zero neighborhood greenways. Portland has 70 miles, I recall our tour guide saying. So it would cost $17,500,000 to bring Salem up to Portland's level in this regard.
Regardless of how it'd be spent, $50 million would go a long way toward improving the quality of life in Salem. This has to be kept in mind as the City Council decides how to move forward with the recommendations of a police facility task force.
Last night I testified about another unmet need during the public comment period of a City Council meeting. A Statesman Journal story, "Council receives recommendations on Salem police facility," contains some mentions of moi.
Download Council receives recommendations on Salem police facility
The city council did not necessarily agree with the recommendations or support them. Acting to receive the task force recommendations means that they will be discussed in future meetings and staff sessions.
There was opposition to the recommendations, however, particularly over splitting a bond measure needed to raise money for the facility from another measure that would seismically upgrade the Vern Miller Civic Center.
Salem resident Brian Hines urged the council to go back to the original plan created by city officials.
"Build both a new police facility and seismically retrofit city hall and the Salem Public Library. There is no reason to delay making essential preparations for the Big One earthquake that is a matter of when, not if."
Hines also pointed to the immediate danger the building faces in the event of an earthquake.
"Consider the chart next to the Earthquake Timing section of the Wikipedia article about the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The intervals before six 'Big One' earthquakes have been studied, the most recent one being in 1700 — 315 years ago.
Here's the intervals for three of the six: 201 years, 250 years, 330 years. We're now at 315 years since the last Big One."
He asked a pointed question to the city council.
"Why would City officials put off seismic strengthening of city hall and the library when the next super-devastating earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest could strike at any moment?"
I can't really say whether spending $20 million to seismically strengthen City Hall and the Library is the best use of that much taxpayer money.
However, saving lives of employees and visitors to these buildings, including children at the Library, strikes me as being important -- much more so than spending an extra $20 million on an over-priced police facility. Like I said in my testimony, a devastating Big One earthquake that likely would pancake City Hall and the Library is a matter of when, not if.
You can read my entire testimony that I submitted to the City Council via the link below. I had to shorten it a bit in my verbal remarks to fit into the allotted three minutes for public comments.
Download Seismic retrofitting testimony
Here's how I ended my letter to the City Council:
A May 22 news release from the City of Salem says, “While the entire civic center campus needs seismic improvements, the task force recommended that the police station should be the priority. Police occupy cramped quarters on the civic center’s bottom floor.”
So apparently saving the lives of police department staff is viewed as more important than saving the lives of other Civic Center employees, along with the lives of visitors to City Hall and the Library, which could include children enjoying Storytime at the Library when the devastating Big One earthquake hits.
If it is unthinkable that the police department be reduced to rubble when the Civic Center “pancakes” after a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, why isn’t it equally unthinkable to allow other City of Salem departments, along with the Library, to suffer the same fate?
All City agencies, not just the police department, will be needed to function after a massive earthquake. Panicked citizens should be able to count on the Civic Center as a haven where disaster relief and emergency help are coordinated.
It makes no sense to allow the Civic Center to become rubble, rather than a refuge, a stable place in a ravaged community. The OPB report, based on the best available data and expert opinion, projects that restoring water and sewer services, and partial restoration of top priority highways, will take more than a year after the Big One earthquake hits.
Civic Center staff and facilities need to be part of the recovery efforts, not buried under a collapsed City Hall and Library. Please, make seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center a priority, not an afterthought.
I got several questions and comments from City Councilors at last night's meeting. Tom Andersen, thankfully, understands the need to seek money for both a new police facility and seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center.
Unfortunately, other City Councilors and the Mayor seem determined to waste money on a $50 million-plus police facility that experts say could be built for no more than $30 million.
This means, in effect, that those City officials are willing to put the lives of Civic Center employees and visitors at risk when the Big One earthquake hits in order to have an excessively-priced "Police Palace," since the cost of seismically retrofitting City Hall and the Library is about $20 million.
Morally and ethically, I find this highly objectionable.
Hopefully the Mayor and City Council will recognize that it would be better to build a perfectly adequate $30 million police facility rather than a wasteful $50 million one, and spend the difference on strengthening City Hall and the Library so they don't collapse in a major earthquake.
Susann Kaltwasser left a great comment on the Statesman Journal story mentioned above. About all I disagree with is the need for a 100,000 square foot police facility. The City's original proposal called for 75,000 square feet, which seems adequate. Here's what she said:
Salem does not need to spend more than $30 million on a new police building. Other cities have build their new police stations for an average of $250 a sq foot. That means $25 million for a 100,000 sq ft building and $5 million for the land. Any more than that and we are paying too much.
The Council wants us to keep an open mind on the price, but that can be a subtle message that they want to spend more. The Mayor still wants to see the police station to be either at the Civic Center or very close by. This means a parking garage ($15 million) and a skybridge perhaps for a couple more million. That's how they got to a $50 million preliminary price.
Citizens need to send the message that they will be scrutinizing any proposal with a fine tooth comb and will not be deceived!
Watch out and be aware! Stay involved and talk to your councilor.
We need a successful bond measure that meets our needs and gets us the seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library as well as a new police facility.