Last June, city voters said no to a $171-million bond issue to pay for new police facilities. And if it weren't for the devastating Los Angeles riots, a $235-million measure to upgrade the city's antiquated 911 emergency dispatch system would almost surely have been defeated for a third consecutive year in 1992.
So what makes anyone think that the public will go for a new $432.5-million Los Angeles police facilities bonding measure--and subsequent spending of an additional $600 million--recommended in a forthcoming report by a group of consultants and city leaders?
"It will be a hard sell, based on what's happened with past measures," said City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
The 66-page Kosmont and Associates report, obtained by The Times this week, calls for a bond measure to be submitted to voters no later than November for replacing the department's Hollenbeck, Rampart and West Valley stations, improving 10 other stations and building two stations.
The wide-ranging report, commissioned by Councilwoman Laura Chick in cooperation with the LAPD and mayor's office, also suggests that Parker Center, the LAPD's world-famous but deteriorating headquarters, be demolished.
City leaders interviewed Wednesday said there is a definite need to upgrade LAPD facilities. But they acknowledged that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated if they are to win the two-thirds majority needed for passage of the new measure.
In December, a city report cited inadequate planning, intervening events and a lack of accountability as reasons the city bond measures often do not fulfill their promise. "Authority to manage the various capital programs is so diffused throughout the city that projects cannot be successfully managed," wrote the city administrative officer.
This time, "there must be full disclosure to the public on the front end," said Chick, who heads the council's Public Safety Committee.
The last time city voters approved an LAPD facilities measure was in 1989. Within a year, officials disclosed that the $176 million raised by bonds would not cover at least seven of the 23 projects promised.
Some projects turned out to be far more costly than anticipated--construction of a new 77th Street station is now budgeted at $35.4 million, more than double the preelection estimate.
The 911 initiative approved in 1992 set no timetable for construction of its hallmark project--two new emergency dispatch centers. But the measure did promise "immediate improvements" to cope with 1 million calls a year unanswered by overtaxed 911 operators. Now, more than three years later, city officials have yet to decide where one of the new centers will be built and have not awarded the key computer contract to link the centers.
Councilman Mike Feuer said that in order to pass a new measure, city officials "must communicate very clearly to the voters the precise needs these bond issues would satisfy and communicate that we have the ability to deliver on the promises."
One means for doing so, he said, is by making sure that a single municipal official would be responsible for monitoring each capital project authorized by city voters.
As usual, the task of winning approval is particularly tough because a majority vote is insufficient.
"The two-thirds needed is just a killer," said Jane Pisano, dean of the School of Public Administration at USC. "You can have a measure that passes by more than 60% of the vote and it still fails, which is really a tragedy."
John Stodder, a private consultant who managed the successful 911 campaign, said passage may be contingent on two unforeseen circumstances: a large advertising war chest or political lightning striking.
"With these bond issues, timing is everything," said Stodder. "With 911, people came to realize through personal experiences and activities surrounding the riots that the communications system badly needed to be upgraded."
Building police stations may have little visceral appeal, Stodder said, but one possible area to work on is the need for a new scientific investigations lab, as highlighted during the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
"You have to find the things the public knows are a problem," Stodder said. "The public now knows a murderer might get away with a murder because the crime lab is not up to snuff."
A final method for boosting the measure's chances, Stodder added, is for "the mayor and other city leaders to come in and get people focused on this."
Mayor Richard Riordan has yet to decide whether he would favor a $432.5-million facilities bond measure.
"There is a need for improvements," said mayoral spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez. "But you need to look at things to be sure taxpayer dollars would be spent appropriately given the track record of the city on bond initiatives--both in obtaining voter approval and, once approval is given, how the resources have been spent."
Riordan, she said, is particularly interested in an aspect of the study dealing with possible cost reductions through solicitation of private contributions for land, furniture and buildings.
"If there's one thing we proudly point to in this administration," Rodriguez said, "it's the things we've gotten done in the community by the [private sector]."
One leading opponent of the 1995 bonding measure suggests that the city should lease space for police headquarters or seek corporate donations rather than construct "Taj Mahals." Yet even if the size of the bond measure was cut, it still won't win voter approval, said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn.
"There's a lack of trust," Close said. "They promised us a new Valley station in 1989 and we passed the measure and never got it. We passed the 911 measure and we haven't gotten those facilities."
* LAPD SYMBOL: Parker Center is emblematic of department's needs. A1