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New Hall of Justice on the Ropes Due to Fund SHortage

Finance Director James Goins has quietly spread the word that the new Hall of Justice construction will not happen, as recently anticipated, in the first phase of the Civic Center rehabilitation project due to funding shortfalls. The first phase will include only rehabilitation of City Hall and improvements to the Memorial Convention Center (Auditorium), including a new City Council Chamber and ancillary facilities.


The primary driver of the funding shortage is an anticipated $4 million annual shortfall in the utility user tax (UUT) due to Chevron choosing to change the way they calculate their tax liability. Richmond’s UUT ordinance provides taxpayers two optional methods. Chevron has used one method until this year when they switched to the other, thus saving perhaps $4 million. I say “perhaps” because Chevron so far has been unwilling to disclose the basis on which they calculated their tax. The City has no way of verifying whether or not Chevron followed the requirements of the ordinance in determining their tax amount.


The City’s fund shortfall was also exacerbated by the failure of Measure T to pass after Chevron invested hundreds of thousands of dollars towards its defeat, aided by the Council of Industries, the Chamber of Commerce and others.


Between the UUT tax change and the defeat of Measure T, Chevron has just banked about a $12 million profit. Thank you, Richmond.


Meanwhile, the City Council continues to support moving the Police Department out of the existing Hall of Justice into a building owned by Dicon Fiberopics at Marina Bay at a cost reportedly of $1.1 million annually plus millions of dollars for tenant improvements and moving costs. Under the current plan, the Police Department would have to remain there indefinitely until such time as the City could build a new Hall of Justice.


There is also criticism by some that the new Hall of Justice design has become bloated with luxuries beyond the City’s basic needs, sort of a Taj Mahall of Justice, you might say. The need for a new and glorious building for the Police Department has become a popular refrain as advocates have connected the problems with the current building and the quality of the new building with the challenge in recruiting police officers to fill numerous vacancies. A hot new building is seen as an important recruiting tool.


The City Council chose to ignore my advice of instead of spending millions of dollars moving out of the Hall of Justice, to use the money instead to repair the building’s roof, wall, windows and basement to make it waterproof and functional within the same time frame. See Connect the Dots, October 20, 2006.