Acting after a debate marked by charges of demagoguery and fiscal irresponsibility, the City Council voted Tuesday to build a new police station and library as the final stage of Beverly Hills' expanded Civic Center.
The vote was 3 to 1, with Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum opposed and Mayor Charlotte Spadaro abstaining after her call to postpone the vote won no support.
"There's no question we need a police station and a library," Tanenbaum said. "The question is the magnitude, given the fiscal constraints of the city . . . I would rather see the whole thing scaled down."
Spadaro said some residents feel that the project is too expensive, especially since a new fire facility and parking structure have been built.
At the same time, she said, the need for a new police facility and library is pressing.
"Somehow the wrong two pieces were built first," she said. "It was a very awkward situation. It's very difficult not to go ahead, but on the other hand there was a need to talk it out before taking the vote."
Other council members said, however, that there have been extensive public discussions about the project over the past several years and that there was no alternative but to accept the bid of $43,625,692 offered by the J.A. Jones company of Charlotte, N.C.
In the end, said Councilwoman Donna Edelman, "the only information we've come up with tonight was the ideological differences between council members."
Although some members of the audience accused the council of deciding on the project in an underhanded manner, "it wasn't done in a dark closet," she said. "There has been public meeting after public meeting."
Various studies have found the police facilities to be woefully inadequate, she said, to the point that women officers must take showers in a portable trailer next to the police headquarters because there is no room for separate showers.
She also said the needs of the public have long outgrown the library, which has one of the highest rates of use per capita of any city in the country.
"This is not something that sneaked up on us yesterday," Councilman Max Salter said.
While it might have been better to start out with a more moderate project originally, he said, "at this point in time, not to have done what we did would have been irresponsible."
Police Chief Marvin D. Iannone welcomed the council vote, saying the existing police offices, built in 1932, were cramped and unsafe in case of an earthquake.
"I think the city of Beverly Hills is blessed with a very fine police department," he said. "What has to occur now is for the officers to have a facility that is state-of-the-art from which to work."
Much of the debate centered on Tanenbaum's contention that the real cost of the entire project should be seen as totaling $151 million, a figure that includes interest payments over 20 years.
Tanenbaum said this would result in a continuing burden on the city budget that could interfere with what he sees as the council's obligation to shore up the city's financially troubled school system.
"This is the big lie," Salter said. "A demagogue uses big lies over and over, crying about $151 million, and eventually the whole community is confused."
In fact, he said, no builder or developer would ever use such figures because interest costs can change over time.
Although City Manager Edward Kreins said the total construction and design cost, including an already built parking structure and fire headquarters, would be $77,963,200, Tanenbaum said his higher figure was prepared by city staff.
He said interest payments on the money already borrowed to pay for the project could take up 10% of the city's budget through the year 2004, a burden that might interfere with funding for schools if a parcel tax proposed by the school board, an independent entity, falls through.
But other council members said the $151 million figure was misleading and was arrived at only after badgering by Tanenbaum.
"Any attempt to reach a conclusion through such figures is overly simplistic and will result in inaccurate conclusions," Finance Director Donald J. Oblander said.