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Napa civic center project

The Napa City Council has approved a study that could create alternative options for a proposed civic center, which in its current form is intended to unite city departments and Napa Police in a single four-story building on downtown First Street. Council members could review up to seven different proposals by this fall.

A united Napa City Council voted Tuesday night to look at new options for a civic center complex to replace its 1950s City Hall and a scattered collection of other buildings.

City staff and consultants will pursue alternatives to the four-story, 130,000-square-foot combination city hall and police station plan unveiled nearly two years ago.

The new evaluation is expected to produce various options for council members to review within five to six months – with the possibility of choosing different sites or even separate law enforcement and civilian hubs.

The analysis may sharply alter the location, layout and design of a project intended to gather Napa’s city services from seven locations into a central hub on First Street, on the Community Services Building site.

This plan has faced criticism from police, city employees and residents complaining about rising cost forecasts and a lack of community input. Debate about the project intensified during the 2018 council election, when the police union spent more than $50,000 on mailers backing Mary Luros and Liz Alessio, who both won seats on a platform opposing a combined police and civic building.

The move to rethink Napa’s path to a new headquarters was welcomed by John Salmon, a Napa attorney who has criticized the one-building concept as inefficient and costly and urged the city to swap downtown landholdings with Napa County to build a separate city hall and police station.

“Thank you so much for taking a step back and taking another look at what you’re doing,” he told the council.

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While the new study may push back the finish line for a project originally scheduled for completion in 2021, Luros called it necessary to keep its cost and scope on a tighter rein. “If it means we don’t waste any of the information we’ve spent millions of dollars on, it’s worth it to me,” she said before the unanimous vote.

During the study, Napa staff and consultants would spend two to three months studying building sites, finances and city workers’ space needs, followed by two months creating three to seven options for the project. A month-long period would follow when the city would present a short list of alternatives for public comments, after which the City Council would make its selection, possibly as early as late August or September.

Among the challenges to city planners is to cope with labor and material shortages in the Bay Area’s construction industry that have pushed the civic center’s projected price upward, from $110 million to $143.6 million when including the cost of temporary office space during construction.

Among the money-saving ideas council members discussed in December was to delay or cancel a sale of the Second Street “superblock” that holds the existing city hall and police station. Such a move would allow workers to stay in place until their new offices are ready, but would deny the city of tax revenue from rezoning the block for housing, hotel and retail development – one possible way to more quickly repay construction bonds on the city project.

The financial analysis of the various civic center alternatives also will be less focused on revenue potential from the Second Street block or any other surplus city property. In a memorandum last week, Nancy Weiss, project manager for the civic center effort, said such studies would focus on the expense of the police and city offices, and would not rely on forecasts of the money raised from private development.

“We want to take little bites,” said Vice Mayor Scott Sedgley of the move to treat the city and private developments as separate projects. “Big bites are too hard to swallow.”

The civic center is at the heart of an overhaul that also would include a new downtown station for the Napa Fire Department, as well as an expansion of the Clay Street garage.

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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.