New police station is needed, but will residents foot the bill?

Reminiscent of November 2014, Claremont residents will once again be called to the polls as the city places a measure on the ballot asking them to approve a parcel tax to fund a new $50 million public safety facility. Similar to Measure W, the measure will require a two-thirds approval by local voters on November 3.

The ballot measure calls for voter approval so that the Claremont City Council may adopt an ordinance levying a new special parcel tax of $286 per parcel, per year, commencing on July 1, 2016 and ending on June 30, 2056.

The city council opted for a 40-year parcel tax as its preferred method of financing during their meeting on March 24, 2015. The special tax would generate approximately $3 million annually to be used to pay for debt issued to fund the proposed police station.

While many residents may balk at the $50 million price tag for a new 47,000-square-foot police station, Claremont Police Chief Paul Cooper isn’t one of them. He is, however, conscious of cost.

After the Northridge earthquake, Chief Cooper explains, the California legislature determined that buildings housing essential services—like fire and police departments—should be designed to minimize fire hazards and to resist the forces of earthquakes, gravity and winds. Public safety facilities must essentially be “one and-a-half” times more structurally sound than a typical office building, Chief Cooper said.

“Then, when you add in the two most expensive components to a police station—your communications center and your jail—it’s not the regular office space that costs the most, it’s those because of the components that make those up,” he said.

New regulations for jail cells are another factor driving up costs.

“Jails don’t use bars anymore, because people hang themselves or throw things through the bars,” the chief said. “Those reinforced steel facilities, on a square-foot basis, make those more expensive than the rest of the station. We have reduced some of the evidence storage in the plans. Large bulk items don’t have to be under an essential services roof making those buildings cheaper. That’s one way we’re reducing our costs.”

As showcased in a recent video featuring Chief Cooper and released by the city, the current Claremont police station is a 9,762-square-foot concrete structure that has been operating on its existing 1.8-acre site since 1972. Outdated and lacking the infrastructure needed for technology upgrades, the station suffers from overcrowding, with female lockers located in a trailer outside, an older six-cell jail comprised of bars and insufficient space for staff meetings.

Following the city’s use of grant funding in 2001 to study the needed improvements to the police station, various city committees and external consultants conducted assessments and feasibility studies focused on the most appropriate and cost-effective locations to replace the Bonita Avenue station.

Then-mayor Larry Schroeder assembled a Police Facility Feasibility and Site Analysis Ad Hoc Committee in October 2012. The committee reviewed all prior research, architectural and engineering consulting studies, assessment data and reports, beginning from 2002 when the city first opened the discussion.

The committee determined that the current police facility does not meet the Essential Services Buildings Seismic Safety Act of 1986, which requires that the building be constructed to resist the forces of earthquakes. Additionally, the station doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act as doorways are too narrow for wheelchair access.

A new station location for Claremont’s 38 full-time sworn officers, three reserve officers and numerous support staff has been selected: 3.24 acres from Holliday Rock adjacent to the city yard, with all police functions to be built on the acquired land.

The design includes a main headquarters constructed to meet safety requirements, as well as a separate, free-standing support building to house evidence storage and other records that are not considered essential during a state of emergency.  

Opponents to the parcel measure have set up a website, www.abetterpolicestation.com, urging residents to vote “No” on the police station parcel tax. Neither individual in charge of the website wanted to speak on record.

By comparison, the city of Montclair revealed its new, 45,342-square-foot police station in 2008 at a cost of $24 million. The station—designed by famed architect Randall Stout to match the mountains behind it—features an indoor shooting range and currently houses 53 sworn officers and 35 staffers who serve the city’s 36,664 residents.

Chief Cooper says that although the proposed Claremont public safety facility will be comparable in size, it won’t have the bells and whistles of Montclair’s police headquarters.

“The only thing that’s on the books right now is an 800-square-foot physical fitness area, with the police officers’ associations putting in the money to install equipment,” Chief Cooper says. “There is nothing right now in the plans for an indoor range or anything like that. “

A large portion of the funding, if approved, will be directed to updating the Claremont jail to current California State of Correction standards.

“We don’t have intox cells, which are basically rubber rooms so you can take someone who is intoxicated that may fall down. You don’t want them to fall on the concrete,” he says. “When this station was developed, if you’ve been arrested and detectives want to interview you, they have to actually take you out of the jail. If you were smart enough to see the exit signs, you could bolt. Now, jails are built with the interview rooms within a secure area so you’re not within earshot of perhaps the two other people you were arrested with.”

Also, if a female has been arrested and she is in earshot of a male detainee, Claremont police have to close off that cellblock.

“The designs of the jails now allow one-way glass for the jailer looking in instead of the people looking out. They are now separated by block walls so they can’t hear or see each other,” he says. “Now you can use that mixture more to your advantage.”

Unlike the proposed financing in Claremont, the construction of Montclair’s police facility was funded using a special .25 percent city sales tax, a viable option for a city with an abundance of retail options.

At 40 years, a parcel tax will leave Claremont residents with principal and interest payments totaling $119,500,000, according to abetterpolicestation.com. Residents will be paying $8,185 per day for a police station that will be ready to be demolished the day it is paid off, the website purports.

Such concerns aside, Claremont city councilmembers are all in agreement: the city needs a new public safety facility sooner rather than later.

“Doing nothing is going to bring a bigger number down the road,” Opanyi Nasiali said. “I hope the public will pay attention.”

As previously reported, residents are still paying off the $12.5 million general obligation bond approved in 2007 to purchase Johnson’s Pasture, as well as the $48.9 million in general obligation bonds for CUSD’s Measure Y. With the approval of up to $135 million to pay for acquisition of the Claremont water system from Golden State Water, it will be up to the voters to determine if the time is right for this project.

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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