When I watch politicians debate, almost always I experience some WTF! moments where that's bullshit flashes into my mind.
Last Friday's Salem City Club debate between the Mayoral candidates in the May 17 election, Carole Smith and Chuck Bennett, was no exception.
(My first non-WTF debate post was "Contrast between Smith and Bennett evident at Salem City Club Mayoral debate.")
There were two subjects Bennett talked about that elicited a WTF! reaction from me: (1) a proposed multi-use bike path in West Salem, Salemtowne to Downtown, and (2) making the Library and City Hall earthquake-safe.
Nothing Smith said seemed worthy of a WTF!
And this isn't because I resonate much more closely with Smith's political point of view, than with Bennett's. I just didn't hear any factual misstatements come out of Smith's mouth -- which is my definition of that's bullshit.
We're all going to have different political opinions. But we should do our best to agree on the relevant facts those opinions should be based on. So here's where I found Bennett lacking, fact-wise.
(1) On his support for a Marine Drive Bike Trail, a.k.a. Salemtowne to Downtown.
Chuck Bennett said that he'd like to see this trail built. Well, he's one of three City Council members on a bond committee which oversees funds remaining from the 2008 Streets and Bridges Bond, which included money to purchase the right-of-way for Marine Drive NW.
Mark Wigg, a local alternative transportation activist, has been pushing for the Marine Drive Bike Trail. (See "Why people will LOVE to use a multi-use path in West Salem.")
So far Wigg has been unable to get support from Bennett for buying the Marine Drive right-of-way, as was called for in the Streets and Bridges Bond. Volunteers would build the Bike Trail if the City of Salem acquires the right-of-way.
Mark Wigg attended the City Club debate. After it was over, I talked with him.
Wigg confirmed to me that yes, the City has the bond fund money to buy the right-of way; yes, Bennett is on the committee that oversees how that money is spent; and yes, Bennett hasn't done anything to move the Marine Drive Bike Trail forward.
So if Chuck Bennett really wants a Salemtowne to Downtown multi-use path, he hasn't shown any actual commitment to this, just empty words. That's why I give him a WTF! on his statement that he'd like to see the path built.
Regarding why the Marine Drive Bike Trail is stuck in limbo, my suspicion is that the Billion Dollar Third Bridge Dream is the reason. I talked about this in "Why the unbuilt Third Bridge Boondoggle is hurting Salem."
(2) On his statement that there is no cost estimate to make the Library and City Hall earthquake-safe.
Bike paths are important. Saving lives when the Really Big One earthquake hits is really important.
Public officials shouldn't talk crap when it comes to keeping people safe at the Library and City Hall when, not if, the next Cascadia subduction zone earthquake strikes the northwest with what will be the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.
One reason planning for a new Salem police facility was undertaken is because City Hall almost certainly will collapse in a large earthquake. So back in 2013 City officials proposed building a new police facility (currently the Police Department is on the ground floor of City Hall), and making the Civic Center earthquake-safe.
At the City Club debate, Chuck Bennett said these are separate issues -- the police facility and seismic upgrades.
Well, actually they aren't, because if it is important to save the lives of Police Department staff by getting them into an earthquake-safe building, it sure seems equally important to save the lives of everybody at City Hall and the Library when a mega-earthquake hits.
Bennett also said that there is no cost estimate for seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library, apparently in an attempt to justify leaving them out of a police facility/seismic upgrades Public Safety Bond that could be presented to voters in November 2016.
(This was the original plan of City officials until the size and cost of the police facility doubled.)
Bennett added, rather confusingly, that a cost estimate for seismic upgrades does exist, but he dismissed the validity of the estimate by saying it was done by some guy from out-0f-town who just walked through the buildings (not an exact quote; I'm going by my scribbled notes).
Well, on behalf of Salem Community Vision, I wrote the group's position paper on a new police facility and seismic upgrades to the Civic Center buildings. In doing background research for the position paper, some Googling turned up two reports prepared by consultants hired by the City of Salem.
These certainly were a heck of a lot more extensive than Bennett's remarks to the City Club audience implied. Take a look:
In 2014, the Portland office of BergerABAM, a large engineering consulting firm, produced a 17-page report with extensive appendices, "Evaluation Report: Salem Central Public Library." In 2011, BMGP Engineers (a Salem company, not an out-of-town firm) produced a 20-page report, also with appendices, "City of Salem Civic Center Seismic Evaluation of City Hall East, West, and South Wings."
Here's how I briefly described the reports in the Salem Community Vision position paper:
In the original City of Salem 75,000 square foot police facility proposal, seismic upgrades to City Hall were included.
A 2011 estimate by engineering consultants put the cost at about $5,250,000 (including “soft” costs). In 2014 the cost of making seismic upgrades to the Library, Auditorium, and parking structure was calculated: about $10,000,000, assuming the same 70% ﬁgure for costs other than actual construction (design, contingencies,etc.).
So Chuck Bennett spoke falsely.
There are indeed well-researched cost estimates for making essential seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library (including Loucks Auditorium and the Library parking structure). In addition, a recent City of Salem staff report about police facility planning progress said:
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).
Sure sounds like a cost estimate to me: $26.6 million.
If Bennett opposes making the Civic Center earthquake-safe, he should simply say so. Then voters can take this into account when deciding whether to vote for him or Carole Smith to be Salem's next Mayor.
(Parents of children who visit the Library's StoryTime should really take this into account.)
But please, Councilor Bennett, don't say stuff that isn't true. There are indeed solid cost estimates for making seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library. Salem Community Vision has also pointed this out in a Facebook post that criticizes Bennett on this issue.
It starts out with:
WHEN YOU ARE RUNNING FOR MAYOR YOU SHOULD RECALL CITY HALL & LIBRARY SEISMIC RETROFIT ENGINEERING REPORTS AND COST ESTIMATES
The Councilor for Ward 1 [Chuck Bennett] is running for Mayor, but obviously does not pay attention, or do his homework.