On May 16th, Salem area residents will decide whether to pass a bond financing the construction of a new, modernized police facility. The bond proposal is dubbed “Plan B” because it is the second time the city has come to the voters for money for this project. The first time, in November, Salem Weekly opposed the measure. Six months later, however, we find ourselves solidly ambivalent. The unsatisfying compromise reached by City Council has won over some initial opponents of November’s measure but the bond measure continues to remain controversial.
Proponents and opponents of Measure 24-420 are generally in agreement on a few things. The current building housing the library, police facility, and City Hall was not constructed to withstand a significant earthquake and will likely collapse when the plates of the Cascadia subduction zone give way. People also appear to agree that the police facility itself is too small and outmoded to serve the Salem area effectively.
In addition, many are satisfied that the City Council trimmed the size and cost of the facility since November’s original proposal. Measure 24-420 reduces the size of the facility by 33,000 square feet to 115,000 square feet. Commensurately, the cost of the new project has dropped $20 million dollars to $62 million. This concession mitigates some, but not all of our concerns.
Curiously – and perhaps foolishly – the Council refused to compromise on what seems to be the biggest sticking point for voters: seismic retrofitting of the library and City Hall. After the first bond measure failed, Mayor Chuck Bennett heard testimony from citizens and City Councilors indicating that the measure failed primarily because it excluded the library. Unfortunately, Mayor Bennett did not appear to hear those concerns.
The most prominent local activist behind the opposition to the original measure as well as the new, Brian Hines, says he and proponents of the measure met after the November election to discuss options for a new more supportable proposal. John Hawkins, who took on the job of managing the Friends of Salem Police’s campaign for the measure after the first measure’s failure, worked on a different proposal. He, Hines, and other community members such as Councilor Cara Kaser were able to draw up a plan that included a new police facility as well as seismic renovations to the library and City Hall. The cost of their plan was comparable to the current proposed cost ($64 million compared to $62), and met the needs of City Hall as well as the police department. This plan, however, was rejected by the City Council, and seismic renovations of the library were dropped and will not be considered again until November, putting the library’s re-construction in competition with the considerable needs of the Salem-Keizer School District, which is also expected to have a sizable bond measure for school facilities on the November ballot.
Much like the Salem community at large, the Salem Weekly editorial board is split on this measure. Some of us feel that Plan B is a good compromise and that the proponents have met the opponents half-way. Others of us feel that Plan B is still too big, too expensive, and puts the very important need to retrofit the library at risk.
We leave it to Salem voters on May 16th to decide on the merits of Plan B. Your ballots will be in the mail by the end of April. Please be sure to vote.