Torrance taxpayers may soon learn that talk isn't cheap.
If history is any guide, residents could wind up paying part of the costs associated with being host for the last pre-convention debates for presidential candidates next June.
The last time Torrance occupied center stage for a national political event--a town meeting with former President Jimmy Carter in September, 1980--residents paid a bill for police protection and other expenses estimated at $18,000.
No estimates of the city's potential costs for the debates have been prepared. Torrance officials and the League of Women Voters already have begun planning for the nationally televised debates, to be held at El Camino College the weekend before the June 7 presidential primary in California.
The biggest expense is likely to be police protection. The Torrance Police Department will be called upon to assist the Secret Service in providing security and crowd and traffic control while the presidential candidates are in the city.
'Drain on Manpower'
"It's obvious it's going to be a drain on our manpower," said Torrance Police Capt. Bruce Randall. "It's going to cost."
Randall said overtime will be necessary to assemble police units to handle traffic and crowds and assist in site protection for candidates housed at hotels in Torrance.
"I can't strip away patrol forces from the rest of the city," he said.
Torrance police provided traffic and crowd controls and had a special weapons and tactics team standing by during Carter's brief visit, Randall said.
Liz Rojas, assistant to the Torrance city manager who has been designated as the city's liaison with the league, said the city does not have funds designated to underwrite public costs associated with the upcoming debates. If additional funds are needed, the City Council will be asked to approve a special appropriation, she said.
"Until we know the role of the Secret Service, (police overtime) is an unknown," she said. "With Jimmy Carter, we did spend significant sums."
City Clerk Donald Wilson, a member of the City Council at the time, recalled there was an effort to recoup the costs by billing the Democratic Party for the visit. The charges were never paid.
The Torrance League of Women Voters has launched a drive to raise $250,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from private sources to finance its own costs associated with staging the debates on June 4-5. Those costs include telephone lines, satellite transmission facilities, television monitors and transportation.
Former Mayor Jim Armstrong said the 1980 presidential visit was a proud day for Torrance. "It was a one-day shot and a great thrill," Armstrong said. As for costs to the city, he said, "The feeling was it was a civic obligation, a matter of civic pride."
Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert said the city's expenses will be worth the national exposure the debates will bring the city.
"It's a big thing," Geissert said. "It's a lot of work, but I think it's going to be very, very significant. I think it is a wonderful opportunity."
Geissert said the city will coordinate its efforts with the Secret Service and whatever other agencies are appropriate.
Several police agencies are likely to be involved since Marsee Auditorium--the site of the debates--is located in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County protected by the sheriff deputies. However, the auditorium's parking lot is in Torrance.