PASADENA — In a last-minute development before an already controversial Nov. 5 election, city officials were notified this week that a Charter amendment they have touted as a major cost-cutting device would actually cost Pasadena more than it would save.
Proposition F, one of two much-debated Charter amendments on Tuesday's ballot, would transfer most of the city prosecutor's duties to the Los Angeles County district attorney, a move that city officials claimed would save Pasadena almost $400,000 a year.
The district attorney's office, however, opposes the transfer and in a letter delivered Tuesday to City Manager Donald McIntyre, county officials notified Pasadena that they would charge the city $496,949 in reallocated property tax revenues to take over prosecution of misdemeanor violations of state law.
The city prosecutor's office handles about 12,000 cases per year involving state-law misdemeanors such as driving under the influence of alcohol, petty theft, battery and disturbing the peace.
Angry city officials charged that the county waited until just before the election to announce the costs in order to influence voters to turn down the amendment.
'They Are Threatening Us'
"They've known about this since August. I think they chose their time rather well," said Vice Mayor John Crowley. "They are threatening us. We are contending that they don't have a legal basis to carry out that threat."
County officials have said all along that they would attempt to recoup the costs of taking on Pasadena's cases, and have suggested that they would do so by taking a larger share of property tax revenues. It was not until this week, however, that they announced just how much they would charge.
Attempts to reach county officials Wednesday for comment on the letter were unsuccessful.
Signed by Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and County Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla, the letter said in part that "it is clear that payment by the city for the transferred services will defeat any cost-saving premise upon which the Charter amendment was based."
Pasadena will fight the proposed charges on the basis that they are not consistent with those of other cities relying on the district attorney's office for prosecutorial duties, said City Atty. Victor Kaleta.
Crowley said the city is prepared to file suit against the county in order to block any reallocation of property tax revenues that would be used to pay for the proposed transfer.
The county's letter reinforces the claims of two groups fighting the amendment, the Pasadena Police Officers Assn. and Pasadena: On the Move, a recently formed grass-roots organization monitoring City Hall.
Both groups have steadfastly contended that transferring the bulk of the city prosecutor's cases to the district attorney would end up costing money instead of saving it because the county would charge Pasadena for prosecuting its state-law misdemeanors.
"Do you really think the county is going to pick up the whole tab and do it for nothing? They'll get their pound of flesh one way or the other," said William Fackler, president of Pasadena: On the Move.
The Pasadena Police Officers Assn., which represents about 180 of the city's 203 sworn officers, also charged that the proposition would result in increased crime because the county does not have the manpower to prosecute cases as diligently as the city prosecutor's office.
"There's a question of who's going to do a better job," said Agent Dennis Diaz, president of the association. "The caseload alone is enough of a burden to make a difference in how (the district attorney would) handle things. I'm not sure that the community won't suffer if we lose that office."
The transfer would reduce the city prosecutor's office from 10 employees to two, leaving one deputy city prosecutor and a typist-clerk to handle the city's misdemeanor violations. After such a transfer, the yearly budget for the city prosecutor's office would be reduced from $503,715 to $107,048, according to City Atty. Kaleta.
A second Charter amendment on Tuesday's ballot, Proposition G, would eliminate the competitive bidding requirement for issuing municipal bonds, which city officials say will allow them to take quick advantage of widely fluctuating interest rates in the financial market. Increased investment returns would then be used to supplement the city's indebted police and fire pension fund, as well as other capital improvement plans, city officials said.
Proposition G has received opposition from several local community activists and Pasadena: On the Move, who claim that the ballot issue gives city officials a "blank check" for incurring debt.
The proposition includes an incorporation of existing state law and Charter provisions that stipulate the city's authority to issue general bonds. Opponents claim that the amendment's wording, which says in part that the city may issue general bonds for any municipal purpose, will allow Pasadena officials to float such bonds unchecked.
City officials deny that charge.
"We could incur a lot of debt without the change," Kaleta said. "But there are practical limitations. The bond market will not just continue to let you borrow and borrow if you don't have the the financial security to pay it back."
Kaleta and other city officials said the amendment simply streamlines the existing process under which the city issues bonds.
"There is no increase at all in the city's power to borrow," said Crowley.
A simple majority of votes is needed for passage of both propositions.