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Crowding, Decay Fuel Pasadena's Jail Debate

October 19, 1986|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — It's on the first workday after a three-day weekend--like last Tuesday, the day after Columbus Day--that you see all the telltale signs of overcrowding and decay in the Pasadena police building.

That's when the fourth-floor jail is full to bursting after three days of aggressive police street activity to sop up the city's accused thieves, muggers and drug peddlers, without any court hearings to move suspects along through the criminal justice system.

As Sgt. Tom Oldfield, the jail supervisor, put it: "It was a court holiday but not a crook holiday."

On this day, Oldfield had just bid goodby to half of his 58 charges--15 above the 43-bed capacity of the jail--sending them off to court, and the lockup was finally settling into another morning of tedious tranquility.

Protective Plastic

Downstairs, though, things were just revving up.

On the third floor, directly below the adult cell blocks, clerks in the city prosecutor's office were peeling plastic coverings off desk tops and duplicating machines. The plastic had been carefully fitted in place Friday afternoon to protect the office from possible showers of sewage from the antiquated overhead plumbing.

Explained Oldfield: "When you're in an 8-by-7 room with nothing else to do, a favorite pastime is clogging the toilet."

In a suite of offices down the hall, police officers were starting to drift in. This is where special units, like the crime-prevention program, are housed. In two small offices in the back, cops from the Neighborhood Crime Task Force were already staking claims on the few chairs and desks that fit into the space allotted to the unit.

"It really gets cozy here in the afternoon," said Sgt. Wayne Hiltz. That's when most of the 18-person complement arrives to start the day.

No Room to Work

"There's virtually no space for people to write police reports," said Hiltz. "You have to scurry around the building looking for unused typewriters."

On especially busy days, said Cmdr. Richard Emerson, the first and second floors of the police station, jammed with crime victims and suspects, begin to look like a "Hill Street Blues" set.

As people are interviewed by investigators, he said, there are sometimes disoriented persons, awaiting examination by a psychiatric evaluation team, babbling incoherently in a ground-floor waiting area.

"Here's a citizen complaining about being burglarized, while a few feet away somebody is yelling and screaming," said Emerson.

The situation of overcrowding and disrepair in the big, square four-story building on Arroyo Parkway and Holly Street is precisely what city officials and civic leaders hope will be remedied by passage of Proposition AA on Nov. 4.

The ballot measure, proposing a $17-million general-obligation bond issue to pay for a new police station, ranks as "highest in importance" among city election issues this fall, says Mayor John Crowley.

Opponents, who rarely dispute the need for a new police station, say that there should be other remedies, less burdensome for property owners.

Unfair Bill

"They're unfairly handing the bill for every last penny of this building to the property owners of Pasadena," said William J. Fackler, head of a group called Pasadena on the Move.

Fackler and others contend that there are less costly ways of dealing with the problem than going into debt, like tapping existing capital funds and the proceeds from the sale of the present police station, which stands on prime real estate a few blocks from City Hall.

"I feel we've got a lot of support in town for our position," said Fackler.

Crowley, for one, is optimistic about passage of the bond issue--which initially will cost property owners $42 a year per $100,000 of assessed valuation--despite a recent history in Pasadena of taxpayer resistance to new revenue-raising initiatives. A similar jail bond issue was defeated in 1984, missing the required two-thirds vote by about 8%.

Mistaken Impression

"One reason it wasn't successful was because of an impression that it was a tax on water," said Crowley. "A decision had been made to assess on the basis of who had a water meter and who didn't."

Last year, the city tried to form an assessment district to levy yearly fees to pay for street repairs, but the Board of Directors withdrew the initiative when hundreds of angry homeowners resisted.

But this year is different, proponents contend. Not only is there a clear and pressing need, said Crowley, but Pasadena residents have already put their votes on the line.

About 70% of the city's voters in June approved Proposition 46, allowing municipalities to exceed the 1% limitation on property taxes through general obligation bonds with the backing of two-thirds of the voters. The statewide vote in favor of the measure was just 60%.

Recognizing the Need

"That suggests that the people of Pasadena recognize the need for relief in the area of finance," Crowley said.

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