A new group has formed to oppose the Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's preferred location for a police administration building and emergency preparedness center that would be built with a $125 million bond if voters approve it Nov. 4. The Citizens For Better Leadership And Planning, however, does not officially oppose the bond and is gearing up for a fight over the location regardless of whether the public approves the new debt.
The Citizens group has no Web site, has not sent out a press release and can not say precisely--or even give a range--as to how many members support its mission. But they're just getting started.
Architect and planner Ray Kingston, speaking on behalf of the group, opposes placing the police building across the street from Library Square--where the Main Library branch and the Leonardo museum are located. That square, he said, has a special commitment to freedom, which he says is incompatible with a "lock-down police system" across the street.
"The library is, in a way, a very sacred place. It's a place of free speech, free reading, free thinking," Kingston said. "Having a security system [across the street] just doesn't work."
Becker's senior advisor Helen Langan has made at least two arguments to ease concerns about the location. Currently there is a "fantastic museum on the top floor [of the current police administration building] that the public never sees." Though nothing is formal, final or otherwise promised, Langan said moving that museum to the bottom floor of the new building would be away to invite the public into the complex and avoid what some critics have called the "dead and dreary" atmosphere around public buildings at night.
Secondly, Langan argues, large events that call Library Square home--Utah Arts Festival, for example--perhaps could use the front plaza of the building, which will have to extend at least 50 to 75 feet from the street for security reasons.
Kingston is unimpressed with either suggestion. The urban planner says fire lanes and rights of way--not to mention security concerns--will likely make impossible using that plaza for anything eventful. As for the museum, he said that doesn't mitigate the other problems the police building will create. He'd like a museum on that corner, without the police.
Kingston is not opposed to all downtown locations, just the one preferred by the mayor. Kingston proposes locating the building in the parking lot west of the Chamber of Commerce building on 400 South and State Street. That would place the police administration across the street from the City County Building and kitty-corner to the Matheson Court House.
Most of the employees of the building will be administrators in plain clothes, not uniformed officers. The current police precinct located in the current building will be rebuilt elsewhere--perhaps Sugarhouse--at additional cost. Unidentified police officers walking by Library Square are more disturbing to Kingston than having uniformed officers coming and going from the building. "I'd rather know who they are," he said.
Kingston said he's heard from several debt-leery residents who oppose funding the project with a debt-obligation bond--which is something like a credit card or mortgage for the city--and he respects that view. The Citizens' group's sole objection, officially, however, is the location.
Kingston also criticizes what he sees as the city's George W. Bush-like way of marketing the proposition.
"No one is against the police and fire departments, but I have to say [Becker] and the supporters' of this project, they're essentially saying if you don't vote for this proposition you're against police and fire people. This is not too far away from a very recent national administration, that said if you don't vote with us, you're not a patriot," Kingston said. "I think it is a very duplicitous, misleading and unintelligent way to push support for this."
The Citizens group, rather than urging voters to oppose the bond, suggests concerned citizens should e-mail the mayor, email@example.com, and city council, firstname.lastname@example.org, to urge a new location. Kingston fully agrees with the city that something needs to be done because the current building is inadequate.
On behalf of the city, Langan has also argued that there's no time to waste. Earthquake projections show the current building is on particularly unsafe ground. A new building should also begin immediately, she says, because construction costs are considerably lower when the economy is doing poorly. In a sense, issuing the bond now and starting construction soon will be a bargain.
Kingston said he voted for Becker and even made campaign contributions to him, but has lost faith. He says urban planning requires a mind for subtlety that he now believes Becker lacks. He had a 45-minute conversation with the mayor, he says, shortly after the administration proposed building the new police buildings not across the street, but right on Library Square. The mayor was never able to reassure him.
Additionally, Kingston says, "I know transparency when I see it." He says the city organized focus groups regarding the building locations that were engineered not to receive public opinion, but to steer it. He attended public meetings and was unimpressed with the way public input was implemented--or not--into the plan.
"These sites were all chosen for consideration by an in-house group. The same group determiend the criteria to judge them. The same in-house group evaluated that criteria. The same in-house group are the ones who produced the outcome of this analysis," he says. "Then they suddenly came out with the Library Square site."