Fight brewing over Northeast Mesa police-fire site
October 7, 2019
By Jim Walsh
Mesa considers 8 acres at Power and Brown roads the best site for a long-awaited police and fire facility targeted at reducing unacceptably long response times in Northeast Mesa.
After negotiations to buy the property went nowhere and the landowner spurned a $2.1 million offer, the Mesa City Council voted unanimously recently to initiate eminent domain proceedings, if necessary, as “a matter of public necessity.’’
But attorney Paul Wetzel of Cornville was not happy to learn from the Nearby News his property had been selected and questioned why the city could not choose a smaller, cheaper site instead.
“I don’t like to make a lot of waves,’’ Wetzel said, adding that he tries to get along with everyone.
But in this case, he has conveyed the land as a gift to a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization for another purpose.
Wetzel declined to name the nonprofit, but he said he is a member of its board of directors.
Although he received an offer from the city for the property in December, “I thought they had forgotten about it,’’ Wetzel said.
Wetzel said the city needs only 2 acres for such a police and fire facility, not more than eight acres.
“That’s why it doesn’t make sense to me,’’ he said.
But Kim Fallbeck, Mesa’s real estate administrator, disagrees, at least according to her explanation during a September 12 city council study session.
She said she was looking for at least a 5-acre site for the Northeast Public Safety Facility in the right location so that it would enable a reduction in response times and offer the right shape for smooth operations.
Fallbeck said she identified four such sites, but the other three did not have as many attributes as Wetzel’s property, which she described as Site D on a map.
“Site D is our best option for Mesa police and fire operations,’’ she said.
The Mesa police and fire departments are hoping to correct a longstanding problem with response times created by growth and the location of the Southeast Police Division, at 2430 S. Ellsworth Road, which covers more than 70-square miles and already serves the fast-growing Southeast Mesa area.
After the new Northeast Mesa public safety facility opens, the Superstition District would be reduced to 50.4-square miles and the new district would be 37.1-square miles.
Fire Chief Mary Cameli said an analysis found that during the last five years, firefighters responded to 1,600 calls in northeast Mesa and arrived within 4 minutes on only 39% of those incidents.
Throughout the city, firefighters responded within 4 minutes – the industry standard – on 65 percent of occasions.
In cases such as drownings, when an ill person has stopped breathing, it is generally recognized that brain damage starts within four minutes.
In Northeast Mesa, there are calls with extended response times of 8 to 9 minutes under the most extreme circumstances, fire officials said.
Fire officials estimate the new northeast district will improve response times to four minutes or less on about 65% of calls, in line with the citywide average, according to a presentation made to the council.
Mesa Mayor John Giles and Councilman Dave Luna, who represents Northeast Mesa, both said they are sold on Wetzel’s property as the perfect location for the northeast Mesa facility.
“Please do proceed with this location. It seems obvious this is the right thing to do,’’ Giles said. “Let’s go through this process and pay them what’s fair and get this built as soon as possible.’’
Luna was more concerned with getting northeast Mesa residents the service they deserve than Wetzel’s objections.
“There’s definitely data to indicate we need a public safety facility in that area,’’ Luna said. “It’s an ideal location. It’s right off Power Road and right on Brown Road.’’
He said one strong advantage is the proximity to Red Mountain High School and Fremont Junior High School, in the event of a major incident.
“That’s a huge district,’’ Luna said. “The idea is that we will have police and fire personnel ready to respond to Las Sendas and Red Mountain Ranch’’ and other residential areas in Northeast Mesa.
City attorney Jim Smith said that many condemnation proceedings end in mediation, with a mediator helping to set a reasonable price to avoid disputes that end up in lawsuits.
“Many people believe that going through the process, you will get a higher resolution,’’ Smith said.
Councilman Kevin Thompson said he is concerned the new police and fire positions, funded by a sales tax approved by voters, will not be adequate to staff the new Northeast Mesa Police and Fire Facility when it opens.
“I want to make sure every district is covered adequately,’’ Thompson said.
Police Chief Ramon Batista said the department is planning a statistical analysis of calls to achieve a better balance between west Mesa districts, which have high call volumes, and growing areas in northeast and Southeast Mesa.
Mesa voters approved an $85 million bond issue last year to build police and fire facilities.
City Manager Chris Brady said the city is working on a new fire station near the Eastmark master-planned community and the Northeast Police and Fire Facility is probably about three years away from completion.