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Ad hoc committee wants new police station at current location

The Police Facility Ad Hoc Committee made important strides toward solidifying a future police station in Claremont.

The committee agreed to look into building the future station at the current location at 570 W. Bonita Ave. and zeroed in on a possible $25 million price tag for the facility during Wednesday night’s meeting at the Hughes Center.

The staff report presented to the committee noted that it may be possible for a new police station to be built at-grade, or at street-level, on the site of the current police station. Committee chair Mark Sterba agreed with the findings, using an airplane analogy to illustrate making the use of the limited space available.

“One thing I know about the bathroom that goes in the airplane is the size, the envelope it goes into, is always the same,” Mr. Sterba said. “The airplane does not get bigger just because we want to make the bathroom [bigger]. We have to force it into the location.”

Committee member Betty Crocker agreed with the location plan, stating that it is the community’s preferred location.

“We need to be respectful of the current location and what the community is asking us,” she said, noting that Arcadia’s police station was built at the old station’s site.

The city’s presentation claimed that an architect would need to be engaged. A structural engineer is already looking into the current building to see whether it can be retrofitted, according to the city’s presentation.

Committee member Sally Seven emphasized that the decision to focus on the current site is not a decision to use the actual station itself, rather the land it sits on, a notion that was confirmed by Mr. Sterba.

The motion to focus on building the station on the current site was passed unanimously.

The impound lot was given more scrutiny as the city presented more numbers as to the value of the lot. Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor noted the city is willing to reduce the size of the impound lot from 80 spaces to 25 spaces.

Despite the reduction in spaces, the city cautioned that the impound lot is still needed. According to data released by the city, a police station without a 25-space impound lot would result in a hit to the general fund to the amount of $161,904 based on current five-year occupancy trends and $257,221 if the impound lot stays at 85 percent occupancy.

The numbers presented were mined from more than 15 years worth of data, Mr. Tudor said.

Committee member Paul Wheeler noted that the lot is “really expensive real estate to run a junkyard,” and presented the idea of a stackable impound lot, which could save additional space. Claremont Police Captain Shelley Vander Veen countered that it would be difficult for people to obtain their impounded cars in a timely manner and Mr. Sterba mentioned the importance of easy access for tow trucks.

The committee was unanimously in favor of the city’s proposal.

The committee also heard about more financing options from Claremont Finance Director Adam Pirrie, including general obligation (GO) bonds and a possible sales tax. Mr. Pirrie presented GO bond scenarios for a $20 million station, a $30 million station and a $40 million station with structured maturities, meaning payments for smaller elements such as furniture and electronics over the course of 10 years.

A major issue voters had with Measure PS was the possibility of paying a 40-year parcel tax on equipment that could be obsolete in a fraction of that time.

According to the data presented by the city, the annual debt service within the first 10 years on a $20 million GO bond would be $1.32 million, with an annual property owner cost of $31 per $100,000 in assessed value of their property. Under a $30 million bond, the annual debt service would be $1.97 million within the first 10 years, with a cost of  $46 per $100,000 in assessed value. Under a $40 million bond, the annual debt service would be $2.61 million over the first 10 years, with $61 in annual property owner cost per $100,000.

The amount set aside for furniture ranged from $3 million to $6 million, which was presented as a ballpark estimate

A possible sales tax hike, which was how Montclair financied its $26 million station in 2009, was also floated by the city. A quarter-cent increase could net $610,000 for the city annually, while a half-cent could generate $1.22 million for the city annually.

Mr. Pirrie warned that money yielded through sales tax is beholden upon market conditions and told the committee that any shortfall would be made up by the general fund.

Mr. Pirrie also mentioned the upcoming November ballot measure that proposes a half-cent sales tax increase in all LA County cities to fund the Metro Gold Line extension. If that measure passes and the city decides on a half-cent sales tax increase, Claremont’s sales tax could top out at 10 percent, the highest in the immediate region, according to city data.

A sales tax would only need to be approved by a simple majority at the ballot box, as opposed to a two-thirds majority with a GO bond.

The committee was split on going forward with either a $25 million or $30 million GO bond. Ms. Seven was in favor of $30 million, citing the need to leave enough room for any additional elements that may be needed, which was seconded by committee members Michael Shea and Frank Bedoya. Committee member Jim Keith brought forth $25 million as an acceptable target to work with, which is exactly half the amount of the Measure PS station.

“I’m fine with 25 [million], I think 30 [million] is too just much,” committee member Jess Swick said. “We don’t have the answers yet to even go forward.”

The motion to recommend the $25 million GO bond, along with a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program and general fund money for furniture and equipment costs, was passed 5-3.

Mr. Bedoya was concerned that the committee was locked in at $25 million. City Manager Tony Ramos responded that the figure is a “starting point” and that the city will work with the department and architects to see if it can be done.

The committee also took a look at the sizes of other police stations and staff to get a better picture of what is needed to operate a station. According to the data brought forth by Captain Vander Veen, Claremont has 39 sworn officers out of 63 full-time employees, representing a ratio of 1.07 officers per 1,000 people. That’s compared to Ontario, which has 247 officers representing a ratio of 1.45 officers per 1,000 people.

The current square footage of the police station is at 10,449 square feet, with a ratio of 166 square feet per full-time employee—the smallest square foot ration out of the 13 stations presented. Mr. Sterba pointed out that the police station plans outlined in Measure PS would have ballooned that ratio to 749 square feet per employee, which would have ben the largest ration on the list.

There was no motion required on the data, rather it was presented to the committee to zero in on a square footage “sweet spot,” according to Mr. Sterba.

The committee was also scheduled to speak about the service levels to the Claremont Colleges, but postponed it to the next meeting due to committee member and Claremont University Consortium CEO Stig Lanesskog being out of town.

The next meeting will also focus on the architect’s recommendation on what can be done within the $25 million price tag put forth by the committee, as well as the holding facility.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

 

 

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