Merced, a California writer speaks out against selling the police station

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Merced police and detectives are investigating the scene of an alleged assault earlier this year.

Sun-Star file

The city council is in negotiations to sell the site of the new police headquarters. This is a serious mistake that will reduce public safety, increase costs and divide the city when it comes to police-community relations.

For 20 years, previous city councils recognized a serious need for a new police station, planned it and purchased sites, deciding on the one near Olive Avenue and G Street, formerly the newspaper building Merced Sun-Star.

The existing police station was small even after the addition of the second floor in 1980. Forty years later, with a near doubling of the population and an increase in staff, it is inadequate with cramped spaces, office/bathrooms insufficient work, non-compliance with disabled access, unwelcoming/unaccommodating to visitors, and insufficient parking, evidence storage, document storage, and equipment/supply storage.

Even the grand jury, years ago, found the police station inadequate. Police chiefs have said the position is inadequate and it is more difficult to recruit and retain new officers when competing cities have better facilities.

In 2019, architects specializing in the design of police stations assessed the existing station as inadequate in size and facilities. These architects were hired by the city to review the existing station and interview police personnel as a first step in designing a new station to better meet Merced’s needs. If plans were prepared for a new station, the city would be prepared to seek state and federal funding. The council had not prepared any plans.

The sale of the police station site on the Sun-Star property only delays the inevitable need to build a new station. When a future council decides to build a new police headquarters, the cost will be considerably higher (increasing by about $2 million per year) and a centrally located site will not be economically available. The result may be that the new station is located far north, closer to the UC Merced campus, such as on the city-owned eight-acre site at M Street and Cardella Road. This would be doing the “old” Merced a disservice as it is so far from much of the city and its people. Such a location will further increase the sense of division between North and South Merced, negatively affecting police-community relations.

Architects specializing in police stations told the city that a new headquarters would require five acres with parking for 350 vehicles and a 50,000 square foot building. The Sun-Star site is five acres. It sits in the center of the Merced of 2060, halfway between Old Lake Road and Mission Avenue and halfway between Lake Road and Highway 59. No assembly of numerous plots by eminent domain/conviction is required . It has good access to G Street and Olive Avenue once the mid-island on G is removed and replaced with traffic control lane strips on the road. It is easily accessible by bus, bicycle, on foot and by car.

In 2018, a public opinion poll found that 61% of Merced voters would approve of a general duty property tax of $68 per $100,000 of assessed property to build a police station. This strong level of support existed even though no public education regarding the inadequate and dilapidated condition of the existing station took place, and even though the amount of tax investigated was wrong, the correct amount was $39 per 100 $000. The $45 million bond under discussion at the time would have built a new police station and two new fire stations to serve rapidly growing northeast and southeast Merced, which are much more farther from the fire stations than other areas of the city.

The percentage needed to approve such a tax is 67%, so a further 6% increase in voter approval was needed. There is a high probability that with informative public education by the city and positive citizen campaigning, such a tax would have been approved in November 2018. If so, we would have a new police station and two new fire stations in operation. today.

What is needed is council leadership that builds on past planning for a police station rather than delaying the decision, and council that educates the public about the need and the proposed solution, and then submits the question to the voters to decide. It will take trust in the citizens of Merced to do what is necessary and courage to educate them about the need and the solution.

Michael Belluomini is a former Merced City Council member.

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Michael Belluomini, former Merced City Council member. Thaddee Miller Sun-Star file

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