Napa civic center project

This artist's rendering shows the downtown four-story civic center that has been proposed as a new home for Napa's city offices and police department. The City Council on Tuesday agreed to assign two members to speak with Napa employees about the project, a prelude to possible changes to the plan.

Napa police officers, city workers and others battling city plans for a downtown civic center may have a chance to help steer the ambitious project onto a different path.

Faced with the choice of keeping the combination city hall and police station on track – or downsizing or abandoning the project – the City Council on Tuesday night instead extended an olive branch to employees who have complained of being left out of its planning. Two councilmembers, Mary Luros and Scott Sedgley, will consult with Napa city staff members in the coming weeks to gather ideas for a revamped civic center plan expected to be unveiled in February 2019, under a motion accepted by all five members of the council.

The push to bring city workers deeper into the creation of a new Napa headquarters could open the way to rethinking or redesigning the project, which has been opposed by many staffers and law enforcement officers since its unveiling last year.

The council must also weigh a price estimate that has risen from $110 million to $143.6 million (including temporary offices during construction), amid labor and material shortages in a white-hot Bay Area construction market.

The council approved the project in May 2017 and later that year entered negotiations with The Plenary Group to design, build, operate and maintain a four-story headquarters at 1600 First St., on the site of the Community Services Building.

Plans emerged for a four-story structure to house law enforcement and unify city departments currently spread across seven sites, including an undersized City Hall dating to 1951 and three offices leased for $300,000 a year. The project also calls for replacing the downtown Napa Fire station, expanding the Clay Street parking garage and selling the Second Street home of the existing city hall and police station for private development into a “superblock” of tax-generating housing, hotel rooms and shops.

But with objections to the civic center’s price, scope and design mounting, giving Napa the freedom to consider major changes – and greater transparency with city workers and residents – are needed to win any support for such a costly undertaking, said Luros. During her successful election campaign this year, she firmly opposed to the existing plan as financially risky, unwieldy and unsuited to police needs.

After speaking to several thousand Napans ahead of her election win Nov. 6, “I can count the number of people who support (the current plan) on one hand – maybe two if I count members of the Plenary team,” she said, drawing smirks from some of the more than 70 audience members. “… Right now we have zero community buy-in.”

Stepping back and rethinking the plan will allow Napa leaders to consider new approaches, Luros added. She suggested that the city look into giving Napa Police a separate building or considering other properties such as the Sullivan block at Third, Randolph and Coombs streets, or the vacant Safeway supermarket on Jefferson and Clay streets.

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Afterward, a Plenary spokesperson took the apparent shift of direction in stride, saying the company would work with the City Council on whatever changes it may seek.

“It’s a new City Council and a new staff,” Larry Kamer said after the meeting. “It’s appropriate for them to take a fresh look at this. … This should be a point of pride for Napa, so we’ll do what we need to do to get to that point.”

Council members were faced on Tuesday with options including sticking with the original plan, delaying or canceling the sale of the current City Hall block on Second Street, or paying Plenary $1 million to end its contract and start over in the future. Napa also could remove the new fire station and Clay Street garage from the proposal.

Design changes and other steps potentially could reduce the cost of a full build-out to $130 million including temporary office space during more than two years of construction, according to city finance director Brian Cochran. But that figure still would be $20 million over the original estimate – and still force city workers to move twice, first out of their old offices and later into their new quarters.

The city has not announced full arrangements for finding transitional space for employees. One key element, a modular police station building at the Jackson Street corporation yard, is expected to cost $17 million and house Public Works staff after the police department leaves.

Napa could shave costs further by postponing or scrubbing a sale of the Second Street municipal block – to $112 million or $104.7 million, respectively – and thus allow city workers to stay in place until the civic center is ready. However, those steps also would deprive it of the sales, property and room taxes redevelopment would bring, Cochran told the council.

While a new shape for the Napa city headquarters is not yet in focus, the council’s openness to continued discussion counted as a win to Patrick Wilson, the Napa Police Officers Association president who has staunchly opposed the civic center in its current form.

“We agree that a new city hall, a new police station and a new fire station are needed,” said Wilson, whose union spent more than $50,000 this fall boosting two winning candidates, Luros and Liz Alessio, with election mailers highlighting their shared skepticism of the civic center plan. “We don’t believe the proposed project is the right one. We would like a project we can support; we want to work with the city.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.