Police Expansion Plan Put on Ballot : City Council Also Approves Vote on Investment of Pension Funds

March 02, 1985|VICTOR MERINA | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council, pushing a final deadline, voted Friday to place on the June 4 ballot a measure that will ask voters to approve a new property tax assessment to pay for 1,000 more police officers.

A second measure, also approved Friday, would allow for the first time the city's three retirement systems--involving former city employees, ex-Police and Fire Department personnel and former Water and Power workers--to invest up to $800 million of their pension funds in real estate.

The proposed Charter amendments--both big-money issues--touched off lively debates on the council floor before members met the March 1 cutoff date and agreed to put the measures on the ballot.

The police expansion proposal, which has become a central issue in the mayoral campaign, requires two-thirds voter approval and would raise property taxes by about $58 a year for the average homeowner.

The revenue would be used to hire 1,000 more police officers over a five-year period, increasing the size of the department to just short of 8,000 officers, eclipsing the all-time high of 7,000 officers reached in 1975.

$5 a Month

"The time has come for the people of Los Angeles to agree that more police protection is worth $5 a month for the average homeowner," said George Aliano, president of the Police Protective League, whose organization is supporting the tax plan.

Aliano said his organization's 6,800 members would "wholeheartedly support and work for the passage" of the proposal.

The rates would be based on 32 cents for each 100 square feet of land and $2.36 for each 100 square feet of building space. For an average 1,500-square-foot house on a 7,000-square-foot lot, the annual assessment would be $58 and would first appear on next December's property tax bill.

The ballot measure marks the second time in four years that a proposal will go before the voters seeking to raise property taxes to pay for more police officers. In 1981, voters rejected a tax plan that would have provided 1,350 more officers.

The current proposal has become a key issue in the mayoral race between incumbent Tom Bradley and his main challenger, Councilman John Ferraro. Bradley supports the measure and Ferraro opposes it.

Ferraro was absent from Friday's council meeting but one of his colleagues and political allies, Councilman Hal Bernson, charged that the police tax is a political ploy.

"This issue is doomed to failure." he said. "No way are people going to vote by a two-thirds margin to raise their property taxes." The council, however, voted 10 to 2 to place the measure on the ballot.

No Endorsement

In supporting the plan, Aliano said that the police league was not endorsing Bradley for reelection. But he disputed Ferraro's contention that money can be found for police officers without raising taxes. "(It) calls for an increase in revenue that's way beyond whatever has been achieved by this city in the past," he said.

In voting 8 to 3 to place the investment plan on the June ballot, the council is asking voters to decide whether city pension funds should be used in real estate investment. The plan needs a simple majority to be approved.

The city's three retirement systems have assets totaling $4 billion and are now limited to investing those funds in stocks and bonds. Under the proposed Charter amendment, up to 20% of that money--or $800 million--could go to real estate investments.

A maximum of 5% or $200 million could go to any one project, and independent financial advisers and appraisers would have to recommend an investment before it could be made.

Political Game Playing

Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, however, said he would openly fight the ballot measure. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, Snyder said, the temptations inherent in deciding where that money would go are enormous.

"It opens up the opportunity for political game-playing with the funds, and I don't want that to happen," he said.

Gary Mattingly, general manager of the city's Department of Pensions, disagreed and said supporters merely want to reduce their financial risks and diversify their investments.

"There are fewer safeguards now on stocks and bonds than there would be on this real estate proposal," he said.

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