EDITORIAL | Case not yet made for pricey new police precinct

Last week, the Seattle City Council voted to take a step forward on a new police precinct in North Seattle.

And though the council passed a resolution to reexamine the cost of the proposed project, what’s remains unclear is why the aptly-nicknamed “police bunker” is so expensive to begin with.

It’s not hard to imagine all of the things the city could accomplish with $160 million, the initial price tag of the new North Precinct.

While that number has been slightly slashed — or, perhaps more aptly, papercutted — down to $149 million, proponents simply have failed to make the case that the project so cost so much. So much, in fact, that it would be the most expensive police precinct in the United States.

Truly, it’s a rare occasion that brings fiscal conservatives, and social justice activists together in a collective, “not on our watch.”

This isn’t to say that the time hasn’t come to replace the North Precinct, which is now more than 30 years old and showing the signs of its age.

But the current price tag? Please.

Of the original $160 million allocation, $14.3 million was earmarked for acquiring the property the precinct will sit on, along with relocation assistance for current tenants. There’s probably not much to slash in that part of the budget: Land costs are land costs, and as we all know, land in the Seattle city limits is expensive.  

But another $52.6 million is set aside for project development and soft costs, and the remaining $92.5 million for total construction.

That’s where the fat is.

At an absolute minimum, there’s $60 million to shave off that number, to get back to the earlier $88.5 million budget for the project.

How did the cost even reach this astronomical point? According to a spokesperson for the Mayor, when the project was first budgeted, that figure was intended to act as a placeholder.

Quite frankly, it’s hard to believe that that number just came out of nowhere. 

But the bigger problem is that no one has been able to effectively articulate why, in aggregate, the precinct should be approximately $150 million.

If that question can’t be answered succinctly and clearly, then it shouldn’t cost that much.

And considering it wasn’t truly addressed as the Council debated the resolution to move forward on the project last week, it certainly feels like it’s time to go back to the drawing board to find a solution that satisfies more of the city.

Public safety is important, but that doesn’t mean that all public safety related projects deserve a blank check.