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Champagne Tastes, but a Beer Budget : Beverly Hills: The City Council puts a pricey sports facility on its wish list, despite a projected deficit of $1.5 million.


The judges' scores are in, and recycling, water conservation, parking development, traffic improvements and continued funding for the school district topped the list of this year's budget priorities for the Beverly Hills City Council.

But even the tight fiscal constraints created by the recession couldn't keep the council on Tuesday from pushing something very unaffordable to near the top of Beverly Hills' wish list: a state-of-the-art athletic-human resources facility that would make most private sports clubs seem like dingy high school gymnasiums.

The cost of this caviar dream--a cool $20 million. The prognosis: Don't plan on dipping your toes in the Olympic-size pool any time soon. Beverly Hills may have the desire, but right now, they don't have the money.

"We were halfway joking that if we had a dollar price tag on the list, we might have many fewer items near the top," said Don Oblander, director of finance administration for the city. "Some of those items would obviously be very expensive."

After revising its $80-million 1990-91 budget, Beverly Hills is projecting a deficit of $1.5 million this year, the first shortfall in many years. Because of the need for belt-tightening, the council has been trying to decide which projects to finance and which items to place on the back burner.

So the City Council graded its top budget priorities and went over the final marks this week. Items were graded on a scale of 1 to 5 by the five council members, and the 85 items placed on a big board by City Manager Mark Scott Tuesday showed the averages of the scores given by the council.

For example, recycling received a 5.0, while a review of the city's noise ordinance weighed in with a lowly 1.4. The city's industrial plan topped the planning chart with a score of 4.6, while graffiti control garnered only a 2.2. The majority of scores ranged in the middle area, 3.4 to 2.6, which Scott said indicated that the city was giving those programs enough attention.

But a few programs, such as adding fire sprinklers to public buildings and the new athletic facility, were upgraded during the council session after the five members had a chance to view their placement on the board set up in the council chambers.

When Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum saw the athletic arena placed in the middle of the pack, he reiterated his goal of getting a top-notch facility for the city. Such a center would make the great city of Beverly Hills even greater, he said.

"There's a tremendous need for this kind of facility in Beverly Hills," Tanenbaum said. "It would provide the city with a major service that would allow all the residents in the city to participate. There should be no need for people to have to go to private clubs when we can have it all right here.

"Even if it were to cost $20 million, it's something that we should look at," he said. "A facility that had swimming, basketball, racquetball, aerobics, weights, bowling . . . is something that really needs to be explored."

Tanenbaum said that the aging YMCA facility might be able to contribute up to one-third of the cost for a new facility, with the city issuing bonds for the remainder of the cost. Other council members seemed supportive of the idea, and suggested that the facility might be built on city-owned property near Beverly Hills High School or in the city's industrial area. But they all agreed that funding construction of a facility, which would include child-care and senior services, seemed outside their budgetary limits at this time.

"We moved it up to analyze it as one item we wanted to take a look at to see if the city could afford it, and if we could afford it, where we could locate it," said Mayor Allan L. Alexander. "That does not mean it's going to happen. Just that we want to take a closer look at it."

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