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Under Heavy Lobbying, Council Defers Police, Fire Station Bonds : Civic Center: Santa Monica officials say measure was likely to be defeated on November ballot even though voters in June approved renovation plan.


Reneging on a commitment made to voters this spring, the Santa Monica City Council decided against placing a bond issue for a new police and fire station on the November ballot.

Instead, the council voted 5 to 1 to spend up to $2.3 million to plan the facility and prepare an environmental impact report before consulting voters within two years. No time will be lost in getting the facility up and running, they said.

Council members said they had a change of heart after a week of heavy lobbying masterminded by former Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane. Joined by former Mayor Christine Reed and other community leaders, Zane urged the council to defer the police bond question because it might hurt the chances of a school parcel tax measure that is already on the November ballot.

The other reason--and to some the main reason--for backing off was fear of failure at the polls because there is no organized campaign to sell the police bonds and no time, or money, to mount one.

A city feasibility survey conducted about a month ago found that 40% of likely voters were willing to tax themselves to pay for a new police headquarters, with almost as many voters opposed. A two-thirds majority is needed to pass the bond measure.

Councilman Ken Genser stood alone in opposing the surprising turnabout--which directly contradicts a ballot statement that council members signed in a successful effort to seek voters' approval in June of a plan to revamp the Civic Center.

"We've never been turned down on a bond measure in this city," Genser said. He also questioned the wisdom of spending so much money without knowing whether voters would approve the bonds. "What value are we getting for $2.3 million?" Genser asked.

Speaking in support of the police and fire bonds, resident Sam Zivi noted that Santa Monicans approved all three statewide bond measures that failed in June, exceeding the two-thirds requirement by as much as 3 percentage points.

The Civic Center expansion plan, which passed in June, was sold to voters by tying it to the urgent need for a new police facility. Noting the collapse of the city's 911 system after the January earthquake, the ballot statement said, "We cannot let this dangerous situation continue."

The statement went on in capital letters: "WE NEED TO PASS (the Civic Center plan) NOW, SO WE CAN PUT THE NEW POLICE AND FIRE FACILITY TO A VOTE IN NOVEMBER."

The ballot argument was signed by Mayor Judy Abdo, Council members Asha Greenberg and Paul Rosenstein and Santa Monica Police Officers Assn. President Steve Brackett.

Greenberg was on vacation and did not participate in Tuesday night's vote. Last week, she joined in a unanimous council vote to move ahead with the police bonds, saying that for her, following through on her promise to voters was a matter of personal integrity.

But after Tuesday's vote, other council members said they thought the public would understand the need to get more public input and prepare detailed plans before asking voters to support more taxes.

Rosenstein said that moving ahead with plans for the headquarters on the same timetable was true to the spirit of the commitment made to voters to gain support for the Civic Center.

"We honestly and sincerely intended to put this on the ballot in November," Rosenstein said.

Former Mayor Reed, who is often on the other side of issues from the council majority, also downplayed the significance of changing course. "I don't think the promise they made is critical," Reed said. "The lay of the land has changed."

Noting the "three strikes and you're out" crime initiative and other ballot measures for this fall, Reed said the November election "will be drawing out grumpy voters," who are unlikely to be in a mood to tax themselves.

The police association concurred. Brackett said the defeat of the bonds would be a setback for the police and fire departments. Waiting for a better time to ask for money, while moving forward with plans, was the wiser course, he said.

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