Space crunch

Anyone who’s seen the city’s dispatch center at police headquarters on Humboldt Road knows it’s “an embarrassment,” as one commentator put it at Tuesday’s City Council meeting (Aug. 1).

It’s a cramped, windowless, inhospitable room in which people try to respond to 911 calls—work that is as high-pressure as work can be. As City Manager Greg Jones told the council, it’s ergonomically inadequate and even dangerous.

In fact, the entire Police Department headquarters is inadequate—far too small for the needs of the force, he said.

He made his comments during discussion of a new report, prepared by the General Services Department, of the city’s need for new facilities in the short, medium and long term—that is, at various times over the next 20 years. With the city’s continuing growth, all city departments are going to need more space, General Services director Dennis Beardsley told the council. But the centerpiece of the city’s plans is an all-new police headquarters to be built on on 5.4 acres the city owns at Bruce and Humboldt roads.

None of the councilmembers appeared to disagree with the need, but they all were flabbergasted by the cost of the new police facility—as much as $39 million for the needed 64,000 square feet, or $46 million if it were built in two phases ($25 million for Phase I, a 40,000 square-foot facility, and $16 million for Phase II, adding 24,000 square feet).

“How are we going to fund this?” asked Councilman Dan Herbert, noting that the city is already projected to be running a $60 million deficit in 10 years.

Herbert was especially upset and confused because, he said, the city made two decisions in the past three years that would be negated by the new facility.

Three years ago it bought a 6,900-square-foot building at 1500 Humboldt Road, next to the current police headquarters and the Municipal Services Center, that he was told was expected to meet the PD’s needs for the next 20 years. And he reminded Jones and his fellow councilmembers that two years ago, when the city purchased the 5.4 acres on Bruce Road, it did so specifically in order to resell it later at a profit to defray the expense of cleaning up the toxins-laden Humboldt Road Burn Dump.

“I see two decisions I’ve made in the last three years out the window now,” he complained, “and now I’m looking at something [the new police facility] that is fantasy land.”

Jones, who became city manager in January, took responsibility for the confusion and change in plans. “When I arrived, I looked at the feasibility [of using 1500 Humboldt]. It was never feasible to use two facilities on Humboldt.”

By the same token, if the current police facility were expanded, the services yard would have to be moved, and there’s really no place for it to go, Jones said.

Beardsley added that, when the PD moves to its new site, the Fire Department will move its headquarters into the current PD building. “It’s important for the city to continue to use that [Humboldt Road] location because of its central location and proximity to highways 32 and 99,” he said.

Jones stressed that the facilities report was designed to look at needs, not funding. He acknowledged, however, that “the numbers are huge, no question.” That’s why he wants to proceed in phases. (In June the council, acting as the redevelopment agency, declined to approve $17 million for a police station but did allocate $2.5 million to pay for design work on it.)

The facilities report indicates that many city employees will be moving to new offices in coming months and years, especially once the police facility is built. The General Services Department is moving to a building at 965 Fir Street, near the CHP station, with eventual plans to join the Fire Department in the current police building.

The police substation now in the downtown parking structure is moving to the old Municipal Building at 441 Main Street, as will some overflow employees from City Hall. The building will be renovated in 2007, creating 8,212 useable square feet, sufficient to meet city needs for three to five years.

And Butte County is moving out its Environmental Health employees now using 3,745 square feet of space in City Hall, so that space will be available for city workers soon.

“All this is for naught if we don’t look at realistic ways to finance it,” opined Councilman Andy Holcombe.

True, Jones said, but he wants to wait until next June before getting into funding mechanisms. By then he hopes to have a complete capital-improvement plan covering streets, sewers and other infrastructure needs as well as facilities. On the other hand, he added, “My immediate concern is the police facility. I’m concerned about their ability to carry out their duties.”