Supporters of a $7.6-million bond issue to build a new fire station and library in West Hollywood have accused landlords of stirring up opposition to the measure in an effort to undermine the pro-rent control majority on the City Council.
"The fact that this whole thing (the opposition) is politically motivated is pretty transparent," said Councilman John Heilman. "They're out to get us."
Of the five members of the council, only Councilman Steve Schulte is opposed to the bond issue. Three of the others--Heilman, Abbe Land and Mayor Helen Albert--serve on the steering committee of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a politically influential renters' rights group.
Heilman, Albert and Schulte have hinted that they may not seek reelection when their terms expire next year. And last week, Heilman and Larry Gross, the coalition's executive director, accused the measure's opponents of using the issue as a springboard for a possible bid to take over the City Council.
"The bond issue and civic center debate just happen to be convenient," Gross said. "What the opponents are interested in is power, and they obviously want to reduce the influence of strong rent-control advocates on the council."
Charges Called Ridiculous
Meanwhile, Tom Larkin, a leading opponent of the bond issue and a key figure in opposing the city's plans to build a civic center in West Hollywood Park, dismissed the accusations as "ridiculous," saying they "indicate how desperate the other side must feel" about the measure's prospects.
"I think they're running scared," said Larkin, chairman of the Save Our Parks Alliance. "This isn't about rent control. It's about people expressing themselves honestly about how their money is spent."
Larkin, a Republican who finished sixth in a field of 10 candidates when he ran for the council in 1986, said he has "absolutely no interest" in another bid for the office.
Voters are to decide April 11 whether to approve the bond issue, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage.
If approved, the measure would increase property taxes by up to $33.47 per $100,000 of assessed valuation over the next 20 years. The money would be used to replace a single-engine fire station that officials have said is seismically unsafe, and would be used quadruple the size of the county branch library that serves West Hollywood.
But public discourse has resembled a full-blown political campaign more than merely a decision over whether to build a fire station and library.
Linked to Civic Center
Opponents have portrayed the election as a referendum on the long-awaited civic center. They claim the bond issue is a backhanded attempt to squeeze more money for the civic center, since the library and fire station were originally included in the center's design.
Angered by plans to use scarce park space to build what has been derisively referred to as a "Taj Mahal," they argue 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 is built.
However, supporters of both the civic center and the bond measure say it is inappropriate to use the city's reserves for facilities that are county-owned. They point to the city's need for a civic center, including a City Hall, saying the $650,000 a year West Hollywood spends to rent City Hall space is wasted money.
City officials have budgeted $1.5 million for civic center planning for this 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.
Although Los Angeles County provides library and fire services to West Hollywood, county funds are not available to replace either facility, official have said.
Heilman characterized opponents of the bond issue as "landlords and a few disgruntled business owners. . . . All you have to do is look at where they're getting their money (to fight the measure). I think that pretty much speaks for itself."
Records filed with the city clerk's office show that of $4,500 raised thus far by Fair Representation for West Hollywood, a group whose organizers include Larkin and Schulte, $1,500 came from the Greater Los Angeles Apartment Assn., a landlord group, and $2,500 from West Hollywood Concerned Citizens, many of whose members include landlords.
Larkin said the contributions "reflect the fact that these are the people who will have to pay the tax if the bond issue is approved. We're talking about property owners. They're the ones with the most to lose. . . . I'm certainly not a landlord, and this isn't some conspiracy among landlords."
He said West Hollywood Concerned Citizens "took it upon themselves to help by soliciting contributions on its own and then turning the money over to us. There are a lot of people in this town who are willing to support us, but aren't comfortable doing so directly because they fear the political repercussions," Larkin said.