Rick Wagner Column February 05, 2009

City should come up with plans for a much cheaper police building

Earlier this week while working downtown, I felt a great disturbance in The Force. I quickly stopped my light saber practice and tried to locate the source of the upheaval.

I soon realized it was the result of a great heaving sigh from City Hall, as its occupants were forced to temporarily shelve their $98 million building project and their attempt to free themselves from the surly bonds of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Comments and news stories about the decision could lead one to believe that this decision was made freely, the result of thoughtful consideration and wise counsel. However, sources tell me that it came only after warnings from various quarters that a redux of the November fiasco would only result in a greater failure.

Let’s not forget the proclamations of city officials that their internal polling had showed 70 percent support for the project some months prior to the November election, and the story has been spun that the defeat was a result of economic problems on a national scale.

Sadly, the shocked visages at the city’s putative victory party last year belied the notion that representatives of the city felt external economic forces, or internal good sense, would prevent the citizenry from supporting their desires.

Now we can perhaps turn our attention to what must be done, which is to insist that the city break out the cost of a new police building from its Versailles-style dream complex and move forward on with a more modest construction.

This will not be an easy task. The lever of public-safety concern is a valuable tool to pry in additional buildings, including possibly an employee parking garage. 

The cost and design for a stand-alone public-safety structure may be difficult to extract from the surrounding dreamscape, but it certainly exists and it should be hoped that during this City Council election cycle, candidates will discuss their ideas on this option. I know from talks I have had that some candidates feel strongly about this topic. However, it appears much of direction in these matters comes from the city manager.

We should be able to trust that the right things will be done at that level since, as I discovered, the city manager is now paid a salary greater than all but a handful of the nation’s 50 governors.

She must have some idea of what a stand-alone police building might cost, along with an explanation of why that cost requires a tax increase. A dissemination of these facts and the creation of a couple of scenarios would help the public decide a direction to take in addressing the immediate need.

Taxpayers can then begin to work through the process of deciding how to best supply our police officers with one of the most basic tools they require: housing.

At the same time, as we come upon the city election season and the hoped-for discussion of building a new police headquarters, it might also be time to address the protection of private enterprise from government pre-emption.

While law enforcement and fire protection duties are best performed by government, we have seen the erosion of the line between public and private concern escalate nationally and implemented locally.

With the possible annexation of the Fruitvale area fast becoming an issue, those residents should know that induction into the city comes at a cost of some freedom. The question of what choices new citizens will lose are as important as what benefits they might receive.

Will they lose the choice of their trash service provider as that private option has been extracted from city citizens, later followed by the elimination of private ambulance services and jobs?

What other plans might exist to legislate private business out of existence and supplant it with a government required service?

In a quest for revenue or control, will we see the arrival of GJ Yellow Cab Service or City Hall
Landscaping? Silly, perhaps, but not out of the question? Hard to say. Maybe we need a little protection, like something new in the City Charter. That might be just the ticket.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong, which can be reached through the blogs entry at GJSentinel.com.


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