In the worst blow to downtown since the hospital left, the Eugene City Council voted 6-2 today to move the police department out of the heart of the city.
Critics charge that the $16-million plan to buy an office building on Country Club Road for the police department will cripple downtown, defy three votes, waste money, increase polluting sprawl and congestion, increase earthquake and flooding risk and reduce police accountability while damaging civic pride.
But Mayor Kitty Piercy and Councilors Mike Clark, Jennifer Solomon, Chris Pryor, George Poling, Andrea Ortiz and Alan Zelenka supported the move. Councilors Betty Taylor and George Brown voted against it.
“This is a terrible deal for the city,” said Councilor Brown. The only one benefiting will be speculator Ward Beck, Brown said. “He will be able to unload an under-performing property.”
Mayor Piercy said she supports moving police out of downtown and cut off Taylor and Brown’s comments opposing the move after allowing staff to repeat a twenty minute sales pitch on the proposal that the council had already heard.
“We are rushing through this because someone wants to sell a building,” said Councilor Taylor. “We haven’t considered any other possibilities.” Taylor noted the $16 million exclusive deal with Beck wasn’t subject to the normal competitive bidding process governments use to prevent corruption.
Brown said the $16 million could be better used to hire more police officers. “This project does nothing for public safety, all it does is buy a huge building for 30 employees to wander around in,” said Brown, noting the police chief’s statement that only a few officers will spend much time in the 66,000 square-foot building.
Brown moved that the council refer the big expenditure to voters. Piercy refused to allow debate on the motion and the referral vote failed 6-2.
Voters have rejected spending money on a new police station three times in the past. Taylor pleaded with the council to not waste the taxpayer money. “People say ‘our money,'” she said noting comments by staff and council supporters. “It isn’t ours, it belongs to the public.”
(For details on the police move, please read a story in Thursday’s EW to be posted here.