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ELECTIONS / MONROVIA POLICE : Voters to Decide if Modern Station Is Worth the Cost


Paula Lewis' blood-sugar level was plummeting and she was disoriented when she called 911 one day last summer and reached a Monrovia police dispatcher.

In several other cities in the region, Lewis' call would have triggered a computer message showing that she was a diabetic with serious health problems.

Paramedics could have been sent to Lewis' home within minutes, carrying the medication she needed with authorization to force entry into her home if necessary.

But the Monrovia dispatcher, who today still logs calls in longhand on rectangular cards, had no sophisticated computer telling her of the caller's condition. Actually, she suspected Lewis' slurred, and sometimes unintelligible, speech was evidence of drunkenness.

But luckily for Lewis, the dispatcher directed police officers to her home anyway. The officers located Lewis' husband at work and he rushed home to give her the lifesaving medication.

Lewis, who now lives in Arcadia, has become a dramatic spokeswoman for "Measure A" on the April 14 municipal ballot in Monrovia.

If passed, the initiative would authorize construction at Lime and Ivy avenues of a $9-million police station--complete with computerized tracking of police calls and the emergency medical system Lewis needed last year.

"If they couldn't have gotten my husband, I could have died or gotten brain damage," Lewis said in a recent interview. "I feel very strongly about them getting the (computer) system up."

Efforts to move Monrovia's police force out of its cramped, 12,500-square-foot headquarters, built in 1961, have been underway since June, 1990, when a citizens committee recommended a new station. But so far, those efforts have failed. Last June, a proposal similar to Measure A failed--by 123 votes--to reach the required two-thirds majority for passage.

However, this year, Measure A will pass if approved by a simple majority because it is structured as a general tax.

If the proposal passes, Monrovia voters will be endorsing the city's plan to levy a $4.50 monthly surcharge on residential water bills and an 83% surcharge on business-license fees to finance the new, 30,000 square-foot police facility. The taxes will be in place for 28 years. Senior citizens and low-income residents would pay a discounted monthly surcharge of $4.

There is no organized opposition. But Monrovia resident Mary Williams, 65, a retired word processor, thinks there are already enough demands on her pocketbook. So, she wrote the sample ballot argument against Measure A.

"Right now, with the recession and people being out of work, I don't think the time is right. There are an awful lot of seniors in Monrovia and they're not going to be able to afford this," said Williams, a resident since 1957.

Jack Williams, 72, a retired stagehand who is no relation to Mary Williams, also opposes the plan.

"I'm all for the police," he said, "but I don't want to rent a cop. If I have to pay $4 a month for the police, that's insulting to them."

Rather than asking citizens to shoulder the burden, the city should use its redevelopment money for the station, he said.

But Peter Hoffman, co-chairman of a group supporting Measure A, said that the overwhelming need for the new station, and the current advantages of low interest rates and discounted construction costs, make a good case for building the facility as soon as possible.

"We're stretching the payment out over 28 years. There'll be good times and bad times over the years. But interest rates are as low as I can remember, so now's the time to seize the bargain," he said.

Police Chief Joseph Santoro said police services will improve under the new, automated facility.

"It will allow us to serve the citizens better, to get police cars out on calls faster, to investigate more efficiently and to keep suspects in jail until they need to be released," he said.

Currently, the 145 officers, civilians and volunteers who work out of a brick building around the corner from Monrovia City Hall must cope with a leaky roof that has been patched beyond repair and offices so crowded with desks that there is barely enough room to walk around, Santoro said.

There is one men's toilet on the first floor, its leaking pipes stuffed with toilet paper. The 23 female employees share a makeshift locker room, converted from a public restroom.

The station was built when Monrovia had 27,000 residents, who put in about 7,000 calls to police each year, the chief said. "In 1991, we had 37,000 residents and 23,000 calls for service. In 2008, we forecast a population of 41,000 and 26,000 calls for service each year," he said.

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