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Police station committee takes first steps to solution

In the middle of a committee discussion about how to properly lobby for a new police station, an earthquake struck.

The temblor, which measured 4.4 on the Richter scale and was centered in La Verne, jolted the Hughes Center’s Padua Room and rattled the committee. It was enough for committee member John Watkins to quip, “You got my vote!”

After briefly leaving the room for a status check, Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen announced, “Our station is still standing,” to laughter and applause. 

Nothing was damaged, save for a misaligned overhead projector. It was a bit of foreshadowing for a group that is tasked to find a way to replace what WMM Associates Architects deemed a seismically-unsound station.

The 15-member Police Station Citizens Advisory Committee, which met on Tuesday evening, represents a mixture of those who voted in favor of Measure SC and those who did not. Mayor Opanyi Nasiali called the committee the “chosen few” out of 37 applicants.

“I think we have a good group,” he said. “I’m expecting solutions. That’s what you are here for, so we can move forward and solve this problem.”

Representing the city were Chief Vander Veen, City Manager Tara Schultz, Finance Director Adam Pirrie and Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor.

“For the rest of my life I’ll be a Claremont resident,” the chief said. “So, when I look at this, I see it as a resident in addition to at the current time working in the current facility.”

The committee spent roughly two and a half hours going over the history of both Measure PS and Measure SC, different options for a path forward (including retrofitting the current station and possibly moving into the city yard building), and talking about an upcoming resident survey that would tap into voter sentiment.

In speaking about the current condition of the police station prior to the 4.4 temblor, Mr. Tudor noted that the building was not adequately prepared to survive a major earthquake.

“It’s a very rigid building,” he said.

The station also has inadequate facilities for female officers, and was built for a department half the size of the current squad, he said. Additional analyses, including an engineering analysis and an environmental analysis, will be done on the station in the future, Mr. Tudor added.

Committee member Matt Magilke asked Mr. Tudor if WMM, the architectural firm picked to design the station plan, also determined that the current station could not be retrofitted.

During the last committee meetings in 2016, Steve Wiley from WMM noted the current station could not be retrofitted to current codes and would fail in an earthquake, according to a previous COURIER report.

“It seems like an incentive for the architect would be, ‘Yeah I don’t want to retrofit this building because I want to build a new building,’” Mr. Magilke said. “I don’t understand why the architect of a new building would be analyzing an old building and telling us whether or not we could retrofit the old building.”

Mr. Tudor noted Mr. Wiley was hired both to figure out what could be done to the current station, or if a new station was required.

“I don’t think it was an issue of him trying to say ‘No you can’t because I want the job to build another building,’” Mr. Tudor said. “Because he just as easily could’ve said, ‘Yes you can, and here’s how I can design onto that building.’”

Regarding the city yard, Mr. Tudor said the building, which houses the sanitation department and acts as a refueling station for the police, has not been built to “essential services” requirements.

The Essential Services Buildings Seismic Safety Act mandates certain municipal buildings, like a police station, be built to withstand natural disasters so they can continue to operate in the event of an emergency.

To bring the city yard up to code, Mr. Tudor said the city would have to retrofit it, build some additional buildings and increase parking, which may lead to extending the property northward.

The city yard building was constructed in 2002 on a $14.8 million 15-year capital lease, according to Mr. Magilke. Further, he states that on January 2020, the last payment will be made freeing up an estimated $590,000 a year to the city. Mr. Magilke wondered if that money could be used toward construction of the new station.

Mr. Tudor said that, in theory, the newly freed up money could be used toward a new station.

“In so far as you can still account for all the costs associated with sanitation moving forward,” Mr. Tudor said. “There are still costs that continue to change, but yes, there is some debt you’re not paying debt service for.”

Also, Mr. Magilke questioned if the sanitation fees that were increased to help fund the yard could be decreased in favor of an increase in police services fees to build a new station.

“I think this is what it’s going to take to get this police station done, something that we don’t have to go to voters to do,” Mr. Magilke said.

The committee will look closer at the plans for the yard during their October 17 meeting.

The committee also heard about a city-led survey of residents to learn why they voted they way they did. The city council approved $20,000 in July for community engagement and polling.

“The financing mechanism is definitely a concern that we heard, but not the predominant concern from people as we were talking with them,” Ms. Schultz said.

Committee member Beth Pfau shared about her experience going door-to-door to educate voters on a school bond. However, throughout the Measure SC campaign, she said there was a “huge disconnect” among voters on why the station is needed, if it’s needed and how much it would cost.

“I think stewards of this community, people on the committee right now probably would do much better on reducing that gap and creating more credibility with the community on those issues,” she said.

Committee member Harold Gault said the previous campaign for SC was too focused on the station itself, as opposed to the police department.

“One of the things that could have been sold much, much better is how good the Claremont Police Department is and why it needs a new police station,” he said. “That was not sold at all as part of that prior pitch.”

During public comment, resident John Turner said he would not vote yes on a measure unless certain fees are dealt with—$1.5 million in architectural and engineering fees, $1.4 million in construction consulting fees and $1 million in construction management fees, totaling $4 million, or 16 percent of the total financed under Measure SC and 33 percent of the $12 million building cost.

He claimed those costs are usually lower in other states, and implored the committee to take a closer look.

A forum for residents to voice reasons why they voted for or against the measure is scheduled for September 26.

City representatives also took note of topics the committee would like more information on. The 14 topics include more detail on the construction budget, why city leaders think Measure SC failed, the cost effectiveness of having a jail, differences in voting between PS and SC, needs versus wants and the possibility of utilizing a sales tax to pay for the station.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Magilke was selected committee chair with 10 yes votes, one no from Sally Seven, and four abstentions from Mr. Magilke, Ms. Pfau, Katharine Rosacker and Jim Keith. Mr. Gault was unanimously voted as vice chair.

The next committee meeting will take place at a community feedback forum on September 26 at the Joslyn Center. The committee is expected to convene seven times from now until May 8, 2019.

—Matthew Bramlett

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