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Beverly Hills Councilman Says Officials Misled Him to Hurt Campaign

May 01, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Newly elected City Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum charged Wednesday that Beverly Hills officials released misleading figures on the projected cost of a new Civic Center in order to hurt his chances during the recent election campaign.

"I was running against City Hall in the campaign, running against the Establishment," said Tanenbaum, who received the most votes in the April 8 balloting.

"The bottom line is that they thought I'd never get elected and that they'd never have to answer these questions," he said. "I want to find out who at City Hall is responsible for it."

Tanenbaum, an attorney and former New York City prosecutor, said he considered it "a serious personnel matter" that must be pursued to determine if Finance Director Donald J. Oblander or his superior, City Manager Edward S. Kreins, was responsible for what he called "a disingenuous attempted rebuttal of my campaign."

Kreins said he would have no response to Tanenbaum's allegation.

Generally speaking, he said, "if any council member is unhappy I'd have no public comment about it and (I would) talk to the council member about it."

But he referred to his comments during Tuesday's City Council study session, when he said the projected costs released during the campaign were all in answer to hypothetical scenarios, and that nobody asked if those scenarios would be practical.

March 6 Letter

The issue arose during the Tuesday's session when Tanenbaum grilled Oblander about a March 6 letter to Tanenbaum in which the finance director said that although the total gross Civic Center costs were estimated at $183 million, the net costs (once investment income was included) "may actually be less than $20 million."

Once the letter was made public, various candidates seized on the figures in the final weeks of the campaign. Tanenbaum told campaign audiences that $183 million was too much to spend on a Civic Center at a time of school budget crisis, while incumbent Annebelle Heiferman maintained that the project would actually cost little more than a 10th of that.

Oblander said Wednesday that he used both figures to demonstrate the problems of expressing the real cost of such a large-scale project. In fact, he said, it would probably be best to look at the estimated construction cost of $74 million to $80 million, rather than higher or lower figures that reflect various financing alternatives.

He said he felt obligated to write to Tanenbaum to clarify statements that Tanenbaum made earlier in the campaign, quoting Oblander as saying the Civic Center project could cost as much as $250 million.

Oblander said that figure was "totally erroneous," and that in order to clear things up he sent Tanenbaum his March 6 letter and a copy of a separate memo to Kreins laying out a scenario that could result in an estimated cost of $20 million for the Civic Center project.

That memo explored what would happen if $75 million from existing city funds was set aside for 18 years to earn interest income to pay for the project, Oblander said.

Oblander said that the memo probably should have explained that to achieve a $20-million bottom line, the city would have had to reallocate the $75 million from other projects. "Maybe when somebody needs something in a hurry, you don't think how they might interpret it," he said.

Coming to Oblander's defense, Kreins said, "I don't think anybody said (the $75 million) was put away somewhere. It was all hypothetical."

But Tanenbaum focused on the $75 million at Tuesday's session, which at times seemed like a courtroom cross-examination.

"You indicated there was an additional $75 million," Tanenbaum asked Oblander. "The question is, where is it?"

Oblander responded by saying, "That was not said. What was said was in answer to a specific question. If the money were available and it were set aside, the cost would be lower. The point was that the actual cost was not $200 million to $250 million, and it's not $18 million. The bottom line is that the cost should be looked at in terms of what we're defining."

The lengthy interrogation set off disgruntled comments from other members who expressed concern that Tanenbaum's questions would slow down the new council's orientation program.

"This is degenerating into a witch hunt and I don't want to do that," said Councilman Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr.

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