seeks new talks over police, fire facilities
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
August 8, 2019
Merced leaders have pushed the reset button
on their ongoing process to build a new police headquarters
and two new fire stations, and formulate a bond measure
to help pay for it all.
The City Council on Monday night moved
to set up an extended public meeting, or 3- to 4-hour study
session on the matter, and hear directly from design, financial
and police consultants about the scope of potential projects
Also, an exact location for a new police station, and what
role it will play in the city’s overall public safety
strategy, remains up for debate.
During discussions, City Council members also ruled out
an attempt to put a $40 million general obligation bond
measure to pay for the public safety facilities on the March
primary ballot. Instead, they indicated the city should
focus on educating the public about extending Measure C
— a voter approved half-cent sales tax that continues
to support public safety services, but sunsets in 2026.
The salaries of 21 police officers and 13 firefighters are
tied to Measure C. The council is still considering whether
to put a Measure C extension on a ballot in 2020, perhaps
for the November General Election.
“I think we need to worry about Measure C and get
that passed,” said Councilman Kevin Blake. “If
we don’t have bodies to fill these new buildings they
will be useless. … We need to think it [facilities
plan] though, and do it correctly. I think a lot of people
have questions and suggestions.”
City staff on Monday had hoped to narrow some of the options
for city consultants who are aiming to complete a draft
plan and present it to the council.
Stephanie Dietz, assistant city manager, focused in on
two future fire station projects with a total cost (at present
market levels) of about $10.7 million. Station 54 would
be relocated in the future Gateway Shopping Center in southeast
Merced, and Station 56 would be located near the back end
of Merced College.
She also presented size options for a new main police station,
including one to handle current staffing (at a projected
cost of $36.6 million to $40.6 million), and one with room
to grow for a larger city population in the future ($43.1
million to $47.9 million).
The city has been eyeballing and investing in plans for
a new police headquarters for well over a decade. Two properties
were purchased over the years, including a site that borders
Mansionette in north Merced, and the old Merced Sun-Star
site on G Street.
The latter was the go-to location up through last year,
but upon future study of projected costs, safety concerns
and egress issues, it appears the idea has derailed.
Both properties, along with the existing Main Station on
23rd Street, do have cash value to invest in a new police
headquarters. Dietz pointed out that the value of the properties
total nearly $5 million.
There’s also future impact fees that could bring
up to $15 million for the project, depending on the pace
of future city development. She did advise leaders to not
tie estimated impact fees to a bond measure which could
be problematic for the General Fund going forward.
However, after Dietz finished her presentation, a discussion
on the council began regarding the idea of building a police
station of similar size to the existing Main Station, and
then including it in a network of three substations that
would cover north, south and central Merced, without the
need for a larger main police headquarters. There was also
a general consensus on the council to have the city’s
consultants look into a “substation model” for
the entire city.
Both Blake and Councilman Anthony Martinez supported the
substation strategy, with Martinez favoring a substation
to be built in north Merced while maintaining the existing
Main Station to cover the city’s center. A substation
in south Merced already exists. Martinez added that he would
like to see a police presence at the planned fire station
for the Gateway Shopping Center.
“We really are not talking about building a new police
station,” Martinez opined. “We are really talking
about how police and fire are going to be run for the next
how many years to come.”
Meanwhile, Police Chief Chris Goodwin said he preferred
a larger, more central Main Station where communication
between management, officers and other personnel could flow
in productive ways. He pointed out that patrols are already
in the districts at any given shift. He also stressed that
officers are often called out to the hospital in the north
for medical clearances, and to the south for jail bookings.
Councilman Matthew Serratto agreed with the chief, and
said he would like to see a new Main Station built in the
downtown area — one that is complemented by a substation
model that would address community concerns.
“It’s on us,” Serratto said. “We
need to come up with a truly appealing plan for the city.”
At times on Monday night, council members sounded a bit
frustrated that the overall project apparently wasn’t
“I feel like we are kinda going back and forth, and
now we are back where we were before,” said Councilwoman
Jill McLeod, who supported the chief’s idea for new
Former Merced City Councilman, Michael Belluomini made
a passionate plea for a public study session with direct
talks between leaders and consultants — something,
perhaps, members of the City Council were already hinting
“What strikes me about this is the process,”
Belluomini told the council from the public comment podium.
“You have hired these consultants yourself. It’s
not like the city manager has hired them. Why aren’t
you talking to them directly? Why is everything being funneled
through one person, and that person funnels it back to them.You
are paying a voter attitude consultant $100,000 to do surveys
over the past couple of years. For that kind of money, they
will come here and talk to you about the best things that
should be on there. You are paying the architect who is
doing the preliminary plan a $100,000. For that kind of
money, they will come here and tell you their opinion and
insight from their experience of having building a half
a dozen or so police stations in the last 10 years. …
And then you are talking about a $40 million general obligation
bond. The bond underwriter is going to get paid about a
half a million dollars to do that. And the financial planner
is going to get paid like $200,000 to put that together.
For that kind of money, they’ll come here directly
and talk to you, and give you their expertise. You should
be having some sort of study session, or workshop, where
you call in these consultants, you talk about these issues
in a broad, free-flowing form, and you will get information
… rather than trying to guess.”
Mayor Mike Murphy agreed, and he pretty much had the last
word on Monday night.
“I think the sentiment is that there hasn’t
been enough sense of urgency to get this project to continue
to go,” Murphy said. “We are going to proceed
on our Measure C renewal, but we need to have a shovel-ready
project [regarding the police and fire stations]. The more
prepared you are, the luckier you will get when it comes
to state and federal funding. I think we should still be
doing our homework to have this project move forward, even
if it’s not on the March ballot. I don’t want
us to take our foot off the accelerator. We need to do the
legwork ahead of time because this has been years [in the
making]. I hate to say that, but that’s where we are
City staff members are reviewing potential times in the
coming weeks for a study session on new public safety facilities
and potential bond measures. A date has not been set.
Also on Monday, the council approved a new ordinance concerning
Accessory Dwelling Units, and heard from police and fire
officials about results of the Safe & Sane Fireworks
campaign in July.
More on this to come in upcoming editions of the Times.
Stay tuned …