THE CITY OF San Pablo has taken the first concrete steps in creating its new San Pablo Police Department Headquarters and Regional Training Center by fencing off land where the center will be built. 

The project is set to cost about $43.6 million dollars, a sizable investment for the small city in Contra Costa County with a population of just over 30,000 whose total budget expenditures were about $66 million dollars last year. 

Assistant San Pablo City Manager Charles Ching has called the site’s construction “the largest public works project the city has undertaken in its history.” 

The new facility will sit on an approximately 40,000-square-foot site at 1050 Gateway Avenue, directly across the street from City Hall. The city expects the training center will serve its 59 sworn officers and 31 civilian employees, as well as police agencies from other jurisdictions. 

“The San Pablo Police Department values progressive community policing strategies and investments in technology for overall crime reduction,” Ching said. “The city foresees the new training center as an opportunity to share those values supporting consistent training information with our partner agencies in the region.”

Ching, who is managing the project, said that partner agencies in Contra Costa County and the surrounding greater Bay Area have expressed interest in using the facility for education and training purposes, but did not specify which ones. He also expects non-police programs like Contra Costa’s A3 Mental Health Crisis Response Program to use it.

Building on existing programs

San Pablo already has a relatively new police facility that does some of what this new project’s plans provide. In 2019, the city opened the San Pablo Police Training Facility by taking out a long term lease on a building in a retail center. That facility, which is separate from San Pablo’s current department headquarters, has been offering courses in force encounter analysis, electronic surveillance, and basic crisis negotiations for law enforcement officers, and occasionally others, from inside and outside of San Pablo. After the new site’s construction, the four-year-old training center will become a meeting and storage space, according to Ching. 

The new center will also serve as a new San Pablo Police headquarters. Ching said the city currently has no plans for what to do with the building that houses its current police headquarters.

Ching described the training San Pablo’s current facility can offer as “valuable” but “limited in serving all training components, such as annual certified firearms training.” Conceptual designs for the new headquarters and training center show it is slated to include a 20-lane shooting range, classrooms, a virtual reality simulator, kennels for police dogs, a fitness room, and a drone work area. Due to its gun range, the new training facility would eliminate San Pablo PD having to travel up to an hour for their yearly firearms training. Ching characterized this travel as “extensive” and “a drain on existing public resources and staff time.”

The first floor plan of the new San Pablo Police Headquarters and Regional Training Center includes classrooms, a virtual reality simulator and shooting range. (LPA Design Studios/city of San Pablo via Bay City News)

San Pablo committed funds for its new headquarters and training center in late February. To reach the $43.6 million dollar price tag, it is using three sources. Lease revenue bonds, make up about $28.8 million of the project’s dollars. Ching said that these bonds are secured through “dedicated lease payments on city owned assets” but did not answer when asked what the city was leasing. These bonds “do not require voter approval,” according to Ching.

General Fund Designated Reserves make up a second funding source, providing about $10.4 million dollars. The City Council unanimously approved the use of these reserve funds after the project developed a funding shortfall. 

“As with any major capital project,” Ching said, “the project’s financing is identified well before the project is set to begin and fluctuations to the proposed project budget often occur.”

Remaining funds for the project, about $4.4 million dollars, are slated to come from American Rescue Act funds, which were part of a COVID-19 relief package the city received from the federal government.

Ching said that the project has received “ongoing support from the San Pablo community,” and that the city’s most recent public safety survey, which has 300 respondents, showed that 81 percent of residents approve of the new facility. 

Police approve, but is public on board?

Public comments during the meetings about the project have all been supportive, although the majority of these comments have come from police officers. 

In a council meeting last year San Pablo Police Sgt. Matt Wong said the new facility will “boost morale, provide an opportunity to do more training,” and “be a symbol to the community, and to law enforcement across the Bay Area, that we have a partnership with our city leadership and community.”

Despite the survey and the public comments, it is unclear whether the new site has broad public support. When compared with census data, San Pablo’s survey over-represented senior citizens and under-represented Hispanics. Senior citizens represent 39 percent of those polled, while making up about 13 percent of the city’s population. Hispanics represent 24 percent of those polled, but make up about 56 percent of San Pablo’s population. 

“San Pablo has a brand new police facility that they built in 2019, so the idea that the city needs a new one now is troubling to say the least.”

Juan V. Luz, Stop Cop Campus coalition

While public comments have been supportive, there have been fewer than a dozen of them over the last two years. 

And there have been some small public protests. The East Bay-based Stop Cop Campus coalition began calling for the site not to be built and posting critically about it online in late July. The group is against policing in general, and feels that the money used for the facility could be better spent elsewhere.

“San Pablo has a brand new police facility that they built in 2019, so the idea that the city needs a new one now is troubling to say the least,” said Stop Cop Campus coalition member Juan V. Luz.

Luz also criticized the broad scope of the new center, including its drone work area, which he worries will be used to “surveil the local community.” 

After San Pablo had scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility at its construction site on Aug. 10, the Stop Cop Campus coalition called for people to protest the ceremony.

Although a sign shown Aug. 11, 2023, at the site of the new San Pablo Police Headquarters and Regional Training Center states the center will open next year, the project currently is scheduled to open in 2025, according to conceptual designs posted to the city’s website. (Zach Haber/Bay City News)

In a City Council meeting on Aug. 7, San Pablo City Manager Matt Rodriguez said the city was delaying the ceremony due to “operational concerns and logistics.”

Stop Cop Campus coalition members protested at the site on Aug. 10 anyway. According to Luz, about 40 people showed up to the rally, including young residents of San Pablo. The next day, a group of more than 20 people, mostly youth, marched from Richmond High School to the construction site.

Ching said that a groundbreaking ceremony may or may not still occur.

“We are meeting internally on the feasibility of a large groundbreaking ceremony event at the site,” Ching said. “Should the public ceremony take place, announcements will be made accordingly.”

Although a sign at the site says it will open in 2024, the new police center is currently scheduled to open in early 2025, according to conceptual designs posted on the city’s website.