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Our View

Our view: A welcome new direction on city hall plan

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Replacing Napa City Hall

Napa's 1950s-era City Hall.

There are a number of obvious facts about Napa’s city hall and government facilities.

First, there is a pressing need for a new city hall and police department headquarters. The 60-something-year-old central building is woefully inadequate for a growing modern city – and it has been for many years. The city’s government has expanded so much that departments are scattered across a motley collection of locations all around downtown, many of them in no better condition than the central city hall.

And the police department is aging, too small, and is not remotely up to any modern seismic code or technological demands.

Second, the city did a woeful job in developing a new city hall plan in recent years. The project was at once grandiose and vague, with inadequate public explanation and involvement. This allowed critics and political candidates to pretty much make up any horror story they liked about the plan and proceed to campaign against it. This spread confusion and undermined the otherwise solid case for a new facility.

So it is with pleasure that we note that the new city council and city manager have decided to pause the project and try to come up with a more grounded, concrete plan.

Gone is the idea of including a hotel in the project. It was originally included in order to provide a steady, dedicated funding stream for the project, which was a prudent and laudable goal, particularly coming out of the Great Recession. However, the hotel concept took on a life of its own somehow, overshadowing the larger mission of building a new city hall, confusing the public, and alarming developers interested in hotels elsewhere.

Gone too is the notion of a “Civic Center.” Napa needs a new city hall, not a new palace, and the very name “Civic Center” sowed confusion and doubt with the public.

We met recently with a delegation of city officials and the two council members leading the city hall project – Mary Luros and Scott Sedgely. We were pleased with the restraint and humility they displayed.

While they are not going back to the beginning – they have opted to retain the company that will design and possibly build the project – they are reevaluating virtually everything else about the old “Civic Center” plan in order to come up with a new “City Hall” project that the public and staff can understand and support.

To start with, they are gathering more concrete data on the costs and risks of maintaining the status quo.

Many of the old satellite buildings are old and in need of extensive maintenance.

The city pays at least $300,000 per year for leased space and that price is expected to rise. And they are looking at the cost of the inefficiency of having city government spread across multiple locations, including lost staff time, lost time by the public, and the cost of having to maintain duplicate facilities, such as parking, public access counters, server and copy rooms, and break rooms.

They have reopened the question of whether city hall should be attached to a new police department.

The Civic Center project envisioned a combined building, but that would have raised the cost of building the civilian facilities since the public safety nature of the building involves more expensive security and seismic upgrades. It’s still possible the buildings could be combined, but at least they are considering whether that is desirable.

What is clear is that they are interested in having the buildings close to one another in downtown, rather than moving either or both facilities to locations outside of the downtown core.

They are also soliciting information from staff and the public on what a modern city hall provides. The current facility was designed in an era when nearly all important city business was conducted in person. They are now asking for public advice on what a city hall should look like in the internet era.

And this is where you come in.

The city is hosting the first in a series of town meetings and hearings asking for public input on the emerging plan. It will be held on May 30 from 4-6 p.m. at the Napa Women’s Club, 218 Franklin St. The question in this forum is what you would like your city hall to look like?

What services or facilities should it provide? How do you use city hall and what would improve your experience with dealing with city government?

We urge any Napa residents interested in this plan – particularly those of you who were critical of the previous Civic Center project – to turn out and be heard.

The next step after that is for the city council to receive a preliminary report from the staff about the cost and functions of the current system and a summary of the public and staff input gathered so far.

The council hopes to review a concrete set of recommendations in the fall, and nail down specifics of a plan by the end of the year.

We think this is a reasonable and prudent approach. The city urgently needs a new city hall and police headquarters, but it did not need a rush to a grandiose Civic Center.

We urge all Napa residents to get involved. In addition to the May 30 town hall, the city will conduct surveys and canvassing at the Famers Market and other public events. It is collecting feedback online as well.

For information on the current state of the plan and to learn how to get involved, visit cityofnapa.org/PublicSafetyandCityHall.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Davis Taylor, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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