Opponents of a $7.6-million bond issue to build a new library and fire station in West Hollywood last week gained an ally in the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which announced it will not support the proposal.
Calling the measure burdensome, chamber President Mark Lehman said the group is concerned "with the prospect of having tax proposals presented in a piecemeal fashion without adequate consideration of the cumulative impact" on businesses.
But he and other officials were careful to point out that the chamber's opposition is unrelated to the city's plans to build a civic center in West Hollywood Park.
Civic center opponents have sought to make the bond measure--to be decided by voters on April 11--a referendum on the center. They view the measure as a backhanded attempt to squeeze more money for the center, since both the library and fire station were originally part of the center's design.
In an interview, Lehman said that the chamber "isn't coming out against the bond measure. . . . All we're saying is that we aren't going to support it. We're not going to get involved."
However, in a message mailed to 450 chamber members outlining the position of the group's six-member executive committee, Lehman sounded a negative note.
"We must address and develop compensating strategies to improve parking and other business concerns before we burden our city businesses that are already suffering from increasing competition from neighboring communities," the message said.
Meanwhile, a leading opponent of the civic center whose group is campaigning against the bond measure said he was pleased with the announcement.
"They (chamber officials) don't want to rattle cages any more than they have to, because they don't want to lose any friends on the City Council, but their position is favorable to us, so we've got to be happy," said Tom Larkin, chairman of the Save Our Parks Alliance.
Four of the five City Council members are on record as supporting the project, with Councilman Steve Schulte opposed.
Angered by plans to use scarce park space for the civic center, opponents have argued that the city should dip into its $14-million reserve fund to pay for the fire station and library and then let voters decide whether the center should be built.
Larkin's group hopes to place an initiative on the April, 1990, ballot aimed at preventing the civic center from being built in the park.
The group last week submitted 3,358 signatures to the city clerk's office. Only 2,182 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the 1990 ballot. The validation process is expected to take a month.
However, city officials have hinted they may try to challenge the legality of the initiative, should it qualify for the ballot.
City Manager Paul Brotzman said there was some question as to whether such an initiative could be used to restrict the City Council's powers in deciding how park space is used.
He and other officials have insisted that the prospect of a ballot initiative would not interfere with West Hollywood's ability to finance the project.
City officials have budgeted $1.5 million for civic center planning for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. In addition to the architects, a project engineer has been on the job for several months, and preliminary design work and site surveying continues.
Meanwhile, the center's opponents have focused their attention on defeating the bond measure, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage.
The 61-member West Hollywood Community Alliance, which consists mostly of owners of small businesses on the city's east side, is expected to make known its position on the bond issue this week.
The group has scheduled a community forum on Wednesday featuring Schulte, who has been prominent in opposing the bond issue along with the civic center, and Councilman John Heilman, an outspoken supporter of placing the center in the park.
If approved, the bond issue would increase property taxes by up to $33.47 per $100,000 of assessed valuation over the next 20 years to pay for the new fire station and quadruple the size of the county branch library that serves West Hollywood.
"I haven't met a business person yet who supports the bond issue, and my feeling is that most of the people in the business community don't favor the park being used for the civic center," said Mike Radcliffe, who is on the West Hollywood Community Alliance board of directors.
However, Lehman offered a different view.
"My understanding is that the bulk of chamber members are supportive of the civic center. I think the perception is that we've been through a long haul, it's an expensive process, and we ought to go forward with it."