The Albany City Council will likely find itself in a jam on plans for a new police headquarters if it goes against the recommendations of the Burright-Morse committee on public safety facilities. The possibility of this happening arose Wednesday when several council members raised questions about the committee's recommendation to remodel and enlarge the police station at its present site if enough land around it can be acquired.
Ever since 2009, when it bought vacant land off Pacific Boulevard S.W. for $860,000, the city had planned to move the police headquarters there. But then, last fall, a $20.3 million bond issue to do just that and to replace downtown Fire Station 11 was rejected, and the council appointed the committee to review the plans and make recommendations.
The panel, headed by retired Sheriff Dave Burright and former state Sen. Frank Morse, has done a huge amount of detailed work since it began in January. It heard from new Police Chief Mario Lattanzio that keeping the expanded department at its present location on Jackson Street, adjacent to the sheriff's office and the jail, would be better than moving to Pacific. In May the committee recommended that the police station be enlarged on Jackson Street if enough surrounding property can be acquired, and that the Pacific site be used only if the better alternative proves impossible.
The council got a report Wednesday that yes, enough property can be acquired from willing sellers to accommodate a department large enough for the next 20 or 30 years, but that buying additional property -- for a department as big as it might have to be in 50 years -- is is not possible right now because the owners said no.
That's when the council started discussing whether the Jackson Street or Pacific Boulevard location was to be preferred. Members raised all kinds of questions: Could the Jackson Street land support a three-story building? Would there be enough room for parking under city regulations? Would 13th Avenue have to be improved to city standards? If more property had to be acquired in 20 years, where would the money come from? Someone said tenants in an apartment house behind the station don't want to move. And wouldn't it be hard for the police to operate during construction? And so forth.
All this was going on in an executive session closed to the public, so the normal TV coverage of council sessions was turned off. But the policy question of whether to leave the police on Jackson Street or move them to Pacific was not a proper subject for such a closed meeting, City Attorney Jim Delapoer pointed out. (Which is one reason some of the talk has been summarized here.)
Yes, the blue-ribbon panel was appointed merely to review the details of the proposed public safety facilities and to make recommendations, not to decide anything. But if the council ends up going against a fundamental recommendation -- where to put the police department so it can best do its job -- then it's hard to see a majority of voters ever approving a bond. (hh)