Council considers $9.5 million lease for police

Source: Contra Costa Times, December 19, 2006
By: John Geluardi

The Richmond City Council will consider spending a minimum of $9.5 million to temporarily house the Police Department until a new public safety building is built.

The 57-year-old Hall of Justice Building, which currently houses the department, is unsafe because of mold infestation due to excessive water intrusion, according to an April report. The building also was determined to be seismically unsafe in 1992.

City staff is recommending that the council tonight approve a lease for a 55,000-square-foot space in the DiCon Fiberoptics building at 1689 Regatta Blvd. in the southern part of the city. The lease would be for three years with options for five more.

Councilman John Marquez, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the Hall of Justice Building is in terrible shape, and police employees should not be expected to work among mold and water-stained carpets, walls and ceiling tiles. In addition, the basement, where evidence is stored, regularly floods with up to a foot of groundwater.

“I think the move is a good idea,” Marquez said. “I think staff has worked out a good contract, and I see no reason to keep police employees in that building. A safe working environment is the most important thing.”

Councilman Tom Butt, an architect who specializes in building renovation, has been challenging the mold reports as inadequate and exaggerated. With some repairs, the building could be habitable until the new public safety building is constructed, Butt said.

“A careful reading of all the reports does not support the fact that there is a pervasive and unhealthy mold contamination in the building that precludes continued occupancy,” he said. “I think they ought to stay in that building.”

The city Redevelopment Agency expects to lease the space for a minimum of five years until the Police Department can move into the new, $40 million public safety building, which is planned for Barrett Avenue and 25th Street.

But uncertain financing has caused the city to delay groundbreaking indefinitely on that project, which could extend the DiCon lease for years.

If the council approves the lease, the city will pay $81,000 a month for the first year, with regular increases each year thereafter. The city also will spend $2.9 million to modify the building so it is suitable for police use.

Taxpayers would pay $9.5 million for the five-year lease, including moving costs, taxes, insurance and maintenance fees. The expense is an unexpected one for the city, which already was scaling back critical road repairs to save money.

The lease would be retroactive to Dec. 1, and the department would be phased into the DiCon building over the next several months.

Police employees have been working in substandard conditions for years. The mold infestation first came to light in April with completion of a report by MACS Lab Inc.

The police department is budgeted at $44.6 million for 2006-07, making it the most expensive department in

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