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Bond to Fund Police Stations Faces Fight

February 20, 1995|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A $171-million bond measure that would add new police stations and expand others may have widespread backing at City Hall, but community leaders and political pundits say chances are slim that voters will give the measure the necessary two-thirds vote to pass.

And while advocates of the measure agree that the key to getting widespread support will be a coordinated citywide campaign to promote the proposal, so far it is uncertain who will champion the cause.

The Los Angeles City Council agreed last week to put the measure on the June 6 ballot in hopes of easing crowded conditions in police stations citywide. If approved, the measure would raise property taxes for the average household by $9.40 per year for 25 to 30 years.

But no one is taking bets on the measure's success.

"I'm not guaranteeing that it will pass," Police Commissioner Gary Greenbaum said of the measure. "If we don't make a good case for this, it will lose."

There is good reason for such skepticism. Recent history indicates voters are hesitant about giving City Hall more tax dollars, even to help fight crime.

Since 1981, three bond measures to raise money to hire additional officers and two measures to upgrade the police communications system have failed to get the 66% majority needed for adoption.

It was not until 1989 that voters finally approved a $176-million bond measure to add and expand police facilities. But after that measure was adopted, city and police officials revealed that they had vastly underestimated the construction costs and had to dramatically reduce the number of projects funded by the measure. The measure was to fund 32 projects, but the list was reduced to 10. Among those projects eliminated were new stations in the San Fernando Valley and Mid-Wilshire areas.

Voters in 1992 agreed to increase their property taxes to pay for a $235-million bond measure to refurbish the 911 emergency communications system, a proposal that had been defeated twice before. So far, the city has spent only $14.8 million on the upgrades, which are scheduled to be completed by the year 2000.

In fact, two city reports released in January concluded that voter-approved public works programs funded by bond measures continue to lag, snarled in cumbersome bureaucracy. Among the projects cited are the 911 system upgrade and the police facilities expansion measure approved in 1989.

The latest bond measure, spearheaded by Councilman Richard Alarcon, would pay for new stations in the Valley and Mid-Wilshire and three new police parking structures. It would also expand two crowded and aging stations and rebuild two other stations in addition to several other improvements and expansions.

Given the history of previous bond measures, community leaders say the latest bond measure has an uncertain future unless city or police leaders launch an extensive campaign to promote it.

"I think, unfortunately, it's going to be difficult to get it passed because voters don't want to pay more taxes, and they feel they got burned in the past," said Jerry Curry, president of the United Chambers of the San Fernando Valley.

Alarcon has vowed to take a lead role in organizing a campaign to promote the measure, but he said he expects other city and police leaders to help sell the measure to voters.

"In a citywide campaign you'll need a lot of leaders," he said, adding that it is still too soon to consider a campaign strategy for the measure.

To avoid delays in building the police facilities, Alarcon called Friday on Council President John Ferraro to appoint a committee to speed up the work to add or expand police stations if voters approve the measure.

Other city leaders said they plan on supporting the measure but that they look to Alarcon and others to lead the charge.

Mayor Richard Riordan plans to champion a charter amendment on the April ballot to reform the way the city purchases supplies and equipment, and he won't be able to put his full attention on the bond measure until after the April election, said Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan's spokeswoman.

But she added that it was the council that created the bond measure and that the council should therefore take a lead role in such a campaign.

"The ball is in their court to come as a group to the mayor," she said.

Police Chief Willie L. Williams said he plans to work with the City Council to "campaign very vigorously for it." He added that to win support, city and police officials will have to demonstrate to voters that the expansion projects are needed.

"We have to show the public that if they approve the bond, we will use these funds as they are needed," Williams said.

Councilwoman Laura Chick had criticized Alarcon's original bond proposal, saying it needed further study. But after it was clear the council was going to back the measure, she added several police facilities to the project list, increasing the total from $100 million to $171 million.

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