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Ballot Language for Lawndale Center Project Faces Court Test

February 18, 1988|BARBARA BAIRD | Times Staff Writer

A hearing will be held March 1 in Torrance Superior Court on a lawsuit challenging language on the April 12 ballot, including the city attorney's analysis and City Council members' arguments for a civic center expansion plan.

Lawndale residents Nancy J. Marthens, Herman Weinstein and Virginia Rhodes--all of whom are running for office in April--went to court Tuesday to stop City Clerk Neil K. Roth from having the ballot materials printed. The city agreed to delay printing until after the March 1 hearing, according to the residents' attorney, A. D. (Jack) Allen.

Marthens is a candidate for mayor, Rhodes is seeking a four-year term on the council and Weinstein is a candidate for a two-year term.

The three wrote the ballot arguments against Proposition A, which was put on the ballot by the City Council. The measure asks voter approval for the civic center expansion.

Arguments in support of it were written by Mayor Sarann Kruse and council members Terry W. Birdsall, Dan McKenzie and Larry Rudolph, who are also running in April's election. Kruse and Rudolph are running against each other for mayor; Birdsall is seeking a four-year council term and McKenzie is trying for a two-year term.

The suit is the second concerning an April ballot measure that Marthens has brought against the city. The first was filed in December and asked Lawndale to put on the ballot the exact language of a second initiative requiring voter approval of public projects costing more than $1 million. That measure is designated Proposition B. An out-of-court settlement was reached in which all parties agreed on the ballot wording.

Two groups, Friends of Lawndale and the Civic Center Residents Assn., have filed separate suits challenging City Council plans for the civic center expansion.

One of the reasons the council placed Proposition A on the ballot was to test support for the expansion. It also wanted insurance; if Proposition B passes, the project would need voter approval because it would cost more than $1 million.

Marthens, Weinstein and Rhodes, in their ballot argument against Proposition A, said the measure amounts to a "blank check" that would allow the City Council to build as large or costly a project as it wishes. While the city attorney's analysis contains a cost estimate of $5 million (including $1 million in county funds), the ordinance that will appear on the ballot contains no details.

Ballot Language

Proposition A reads as follows: "Shall an ordinance be adopted authorizing the City Council to construct and provide the financing of improvements to the civic center, including a community center, health center, library, and related parking and landscaping, provided that no property taxes shall be imposed to pay for such improvements?"

Allen said that although City Atty. David J. Aleshire in his ballot analysis spells out the cost and sizes of the buildings planned, "the ordinance is the law." If the ordinance itself does not state a proposed size or cost, the City Council "could spend $50 million," Allen said Wednesday.

He also questioned whether, in the wake of a $1.68-million securities investment loss, Lawndale would be able to maintain its AAA bond rating, which would be used to finance the project, as Aleshire stated in his ballot analysis.

The suit also charges that council members' rebuttals, written to counter opposition to Proposition A, are "false and misleading," Allen said.

Their rebuttal states that it would be unwise for voters to heed opposition to Proposition A because "previous arguments by some of these people have resulted in a gross waste of taxpayers' money." The rebuttal charges that opponents in past years have caused modifications in city plans for a community center, city hall and maintenance yard that must now be rectified. The city would have saved "millions of dollars" had the facilities been built as originally planned, rather than having to be remodeled now, it adds.

Allen, however, pointed out that Marthens, Weinstein and Rhodes did not live in Lawndale when the community center was built in the 1930s; he said that neither Marthens nor Rhodes were involved in the city hall built in 1959 nor the maintenance yard in the 1970s. Weinstein was involved in challenging city hall plans, but it is false to say that he is responsible for costs the city now faces, Allen argued.

Voters' Approval Needed

Aleshire, in an interview Wednesday, rebutted the charge that Proposition A is a blank check. He said that if Proposition B passes, it would not be possible for the council to expand the project beyond the cost and general description in his accompanying analysis without returning to the voters for approval.

He said that he explained this in a letter to Allen, but that his assurances were ignored. "Because this does not serve petitioners' political agenda, they have chosen to disregard this legal opinion and bring this action," Aleshire said in court papers filed Tuesday.

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