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8 years, $6.2M later and still no new police digs

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POSTED September 20, 2012 12:40 a.m.

They seemed like smart deals at the time.

Manteca back in 2004 spent $2.6 million in redevelopment agency money to buy 8.07 acres fronting South Main Street in the Manteca Industrial Park between Wetmore Street and Industrial Park Drive for a future South County courthouse  and Manteca Police headquarters complex.

Then in April 2006 the City Council spent $3.6 million in redevelopment agency funds to purchase the 57,000-square-foot former Qualex film processing building at 555 Industrial Park Drive for the future home of the police department.

Today the 8.07 acres is still vacant.

Meanwhile, the former Qualex building is used for storage and occasional training exercises by the Manteca Fire Department.

Both projects appear on the city’s list of pending projects with notations there are no specific funding or competition schedule available. No movement has been made for close to six years for new police facilities even though at one time finding new quarters for the existing cramped 17,000-square-foot police operations at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St., was among the top council priorities.

The primary reason is due to the whittling back of police manpower has helped ease the situation somewhat. But it also has a lot to do with the fact the city hasn’t come up with a plan on what to do next even though there is no disagreement that the existing facilities for even the current force aren’t adequate.

 How the city ended up with two pieces of industrially zoned property without any project moving forward has less to do with will and the economy than it does with the whims - and new rules - of government agencies above the city.

Manteca had drafted preliminary plans that were used to court county officials to consolidate the South County Superior courts in Tracy and Manteca into a criminal justice facility that included the police department. The project was embraced by county judges and it was placed high enough on a state list to secure funding from courthouse construction bond receipts. But then the judges shifted gears and determined it was more important to replace the main courthouse in downtown Stockton. As a result, Manteca ended up with no project partner.

Without prospect of state money to help cover some of the site development costs, Manteca started looking at other alternatives after discovering a new police building from the ground up could cost close to $30 million to serve needs for the next 20 to 30 years.

That’s when staff started examining available property with an existing building that could do the job. The Qualex building seemed like a natural fit. It was three times larger than the existing complex, it could accommodate an indoor range, and it was centrally located - a big plus for police being able to respond to emergencies. It was determined with earthquake retrofits the project could be done in two phases with the initial tab being $15 million and the second phase to use all the space costing another $4 million.

But after the deal closed escrow, the state changed the rules of the game.

The state decreed that all new police facilities needed to have jails - or holding cells - manned 24/7 by police officers or correctional officers.

The requirement would add a cost the city wasn’t incurring with the existing facility. The cost - to cover all shifts - was estimated to be in excess of $500,000 a year. It was an additional cost the council at the time decided the general fund couldn’t afford.

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