Arroyo Grande will again go to voters for a new police HQ

Arroyo Grande officials want to build a new police station at West Branch Street and Old Ranch Road, but doing so depends largely on local voters.

The Arroyo Grande City Council this week chose a city-owned parcel east of Highway 101 as the preferred site for a new, 14,500-square-foot station to replace the current headquarters on North Halcyon Road.

To pay for most of the estimated $8.3 million cost, city officials propose putting a $6.7 million bond measure to voters in June that would extend for 30 years the rate set by a fire bond measure that voters passed a decade ago.

The rest of the cost is proposed to be paid with local sales tax funds and the sale of some property, including the current station site as well as three vacant residential lots on Old Ranch Road.

Building a new station has long been high on the city’s list of priorities. In 2006, voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to help fund local projects, including expansion of the police station.

The current station, last expanded in 1989, is inadequate for the department’s 36 full-time and 20 part-time employees, police Chief Steve Annibali said.

A new station would expand the dispatch center; add an emergency operations center; provide adequate space to store evidence and house computer equipment; and move three detectives out of their current workspace, a FEMA trailer Arroyo Grande acquired from the federal government for free in 2003. “It has to get done,” Councilman Tim Brown said. “They (police) are living in a dump.”

To avoid increasing property taxes, the city plans to obtain financing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, retire the 2003 fire station bonds and use the property tax revenue associated with that measure, plus sales tax revenue, to make annual bond payments.

Two-thirds of Arroyo Grande voters must approve the bond measure. In June 2010, voters turned down a bond to fund a police station at West Branch Street and Rodeo Drive.

Councilwoman Caren Ray expressed concern at a meeting Tuesday that the previous bond measure may have failed because of its proposed location near the Brisco Road interchange with Highway 101.

According to a staff report, the West Branch Street and Old Ranch Road location is about 1,500 feet southeast of the interchange and is nearly equidistant from that interchange and the East Grand Avenue interchange with Highway 101.

Ray said if local voters could see the state of the current police station, “the bond would pass in a heartbeat,” but added, “I’m concerned that they (voters) have already spoken on this.”

The site the council selected is also home to another project: a plan by the 5 Cities Community Service Foundation to build a 53,712-square-foot recreation center.

However, a study prepared for the organization found it wouldn’t be feasible to start a campaign at this time to raise an estimated $14 million for the project, said Allan Buck, the foundation’s volunteer executive director.

The foundation board is cooperating with the city’s plan to put a bond measure to voters, and has not decided what, if anything, might be built next to the proposed police station.

“Our hope is that we’ll build at least something, but that’s still to be determined,” he said.