Last night the Salem City Council decided to press on with an unwise $83 million plan for an over-priced and over-sized new police facility.
Sadly, this means making the Library and City Hall earthquake-safe likely won't happen for many years, if ever.
Reason: the hugely costly police facility proposal, which has doubled in cost and square footage from $36 million/75,000 sq. ft. to $83 million/148,000 sq. ft., has squeezed out the money that previously was going to be spent on seismically retrofitting the Civic Center so lives aren't lost when, not if, the Big One Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake hits (could be any time, according to geologists).
Don't be fooled by what is in today's newspaper story, "Council passes next step for new police facility." (The reporter should have said "city hall and library," because the library is part of the civic center.)
Mayor Anna Peterson also requested a study of the seismic safety of the civic center and library to be undertaken and completed by the end of 2016 to ensure the safety and security of city staff and visitors. The motion also passed unanimously.
Whoopee. Another study.
So for the past five years, the Mayor and city councilors have sat on their butts and done nothing to save the lives of the people who work at, and visit, City Hall and the Library. Yet now we're supposed to believe that a new study is going to lead to immediate action.
I testified at last night's City Council meeting, spending my allotted three minutes urging City officials to make seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library a top priority now. City staff have said that the cost would be approximately $26.6 million.
Maybe that cost estimate needs updating. Maybe not. If it does, that could have been done months ago. Instead, Mayor Peterson admitted at a June 1 City Council work session that the focus has been solely on finalizing plans for the newly supersized $83 million Police Palace.
So I am deeply skeptical that the Mayor's motion to do another study of seismic conditions at the City Hall and Library is anything more than a thinly veiled attempt to assuage the concerns of citizens who are wondering, "What the hell happened to the money for making the Civic Center earthquake-safe, which previously was going to be part of a Public Safety bond that included funds for a new police facility?"
Last night I talked about this in my testimony.
And here's my video, which I mentioned in my testimony, that provides more detail about the shameful failure of the Mayor and City Councilors to protect the lives of people who work at and visit City Hall and the Library.
Only a week ago, at a June 1 City Council work session on the police facility, Councilor Tom Andersen asked why updated cost estimates for making seismic upgrades to the Library and City Hall hadn't been requested in February -- since now he's been told that it would take two or three months to get those estimates.
Mayor Peterson took Andersen to task, saying that City staff hadn't been authorized by the City Council to work on seismic upgrades to the Civic Center. So it was strange to see Peterson making a motion at the June 8 meeting to get estimates for what it would cost to seismically retrofit buildings owned by the City of Salem -- including the Library and City Hall.
I can't be sure what Peterson's motivation was for doing this. However, her newfound interest in making the Civic Center earthquake-safe came at the very last moment in the planning for a supersized $83 million, 148,000 square foot police facility.
So I strongly suspect that the motion approved by the City Council, which calls for the cost estimates to be prepared by the end of 2016, is viewed as a way to tamp down criticism that it makes no sense to get Police Department staff out of the ground floor of City Hall so they aren't crushed to death when the Big One earthquake hits, while leaving other City employees vulnerable to the same "pancaking" of the seismically deficient building.
Well, this isn't going to work for one critic, moi.
There's good reason to believe that the only way City Hall and the Library are going to get urgently needed seismic upgrades is if voters defeat the police facility bond measure that will be on the November, 2016 ballot. If the measure fails, City officials and the City Council will have to reduce the cost and size of the current over-priced $83 million plan.
This will allow Civic Center seismic upgrades to become part of a revamped Public Safety bond measure. So for the same cost, or even less, citizens will get a much more appealing deal: a perfectly adequate new police facility, plus seismic retrofitting of the Library and City Hall.
Below is a video I made of a portion of yesterday's meeting that supports my contention that defeating the police facility bond measure is the best way to ensure that lives are saved when the Big One earthquake hits.
As background, the current property tax rate for paying off City of Salem bonds is $1.01 per $1,000 assessed valuation. City staff are recommending that this rate be raised to $1.25 per $1,000, which is about a 25% increase. This would allow bonds already issued, plus a police facility bond and a planned "streets and bridges" bond, to be paid off over 20 years.
But that's it. Lewis says, "that would be what we could do for 20 years."
Meaning, no bond for seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library could be issued, unless the property tax rate was raised above $1.25 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Thus the Mayor and City Council are planning to raise taxes by 25% in order to pay for their over-priced Police Palace, then close the door on other bond measures for Salem needs (other than streets and bridges) unless City taxes are raised substantially again.
Is the 2017 City Council going to ask citizens to approve another Public Safety bond measure for seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library if the police facility bond passes? Very doubtful. This is why money for the seismic upgrades should have been part of the Public Safety bond being presented to voters this November.
Which was the original plan by City officials, until the size and cost of the police facility doubled, squeezing out money for seismically retrofitting the Civic Center.
So voting NO this November is the best way to say YES to saving lives.