A controversial decision to buy a prime piece of waterfront property and transform it into a new police headquarters was once again before the Vallejo City Council on Tuesday night.

During the six-and-a-half-hour meeting, the council received an update about 400 Mare Island Way, a two-story building that once housed an insurance agency. In 2019, the council approved a plan by City Manager Greg Nyhoff to buy the property and move the city’s police force there from its aging headquarters about a mile away.

However, newly elected Councilwoman Tina Arriola, who originally asked for the acquisition to be placed on the agenda in January, said she had several major concerns about the project.

“I’m not convinced that 400 Mare Island Way is our best option,” Arriola told the council. “The cost is so high that all reasonable options, including a temporary relocation, demolition and rebuild at the current site, must be considered.”

The city paid $13.4 million for the property. City staff estimates that retrofitting the building for police use will cost an additional $30 million to $35 million.

Staff further projects that it would cost Vallejo almost $100 million to build a new police headquarters from scratch — something Councilwoman Mina Diaz expressed confusion over.

“This is long overdue. I think the entire council would agree that the police department needs a facility to call home.”

Councilman Hakeem Brown

She cited the construction of a new police station in the city of Salinas which cost that municipality about $56 million. Diaz said she would like to see Vallejo build a brand new police headquarters.

“A police department that we build will definitely have what we need,” she argued.

Nyhoff admitted Tuesday night that City Hall is still looking at different funding strategies to finance the retrofit work, which didn’t seem to please Arriola, Diaz, and Mayor Robert McConnell.

“The other night we all heard all the department heads tell us they are overworked and underpaid. We are going into negotiations, at the end of the contracts, (and) they are going to ask for more money,” McConnell said. “And we have a staff that is unable to even provide today what it is going to cost for this building.”

Councilman Hakeem Brown, however, said 400 Mare Island Way is the best location to house the city’s police force.

“This is long overdue. I think the entire council would agree that the police department needs a facility to call home,” adding that the department’s current headquarters at 111 Amador St. “isn’t it.”

“In America, pay and facilities matter,” Brown said.

The office building at 400 Mare Island Way could be converted into a new headquarters for the Vallejo Police Department at a cost significantly less than the estimated $100 million it would take to build a new facility from scratch. (Google image)

Since being elected to the council in November 2018, Brown has advocated for the new police headquarters, arguing it will help keep officers long-term.

According to the city, the current police headquarters “lacks interview rooms, public spaces/community room, press room, and storage space.”

“The locker rooms are inadequate and there are no sleeping quarters for officers held over on shifts,” staff said. “There is no HVAC system for dispatch, and very little public parking. The facility does not have a back-up generator, and radio systems are failing due to infrastructure issues.”

Councilwoman Pippin Dew said moving the police to the waterfront will improve the perception of public safety in the area and encourage ferry riders to visit local businesses.

“Ferry riders will be more encouraged to actually walk along our waterfront instead of running to their cars, and being afraid of being mugged or having their cars broken into when they get to their cars,” Dew said.

Nyhoff said the city is in a holding pattern regarding the building due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that city staff plans to present funding strategies as part of the council’s budget process in May.