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Moving City Hall Workers Expected to Cost $58 Million

Government: Price tag involves renovating annex and leasing offices. Retrofit of landmark is causing relocation.

May 30, 1997|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For those who have to swallow hard to accept the $215-million price tag on retrofitting Los Angeles City Hall, get ready for the other gulp.

The cost of relocating the 1,400 people who work in the 70-year-old landmark, which should be empty by March, is going to be at least $58 million. That includes the cost of leasing space elsewhere in downtown for hundreds of city workers. And it's nearly twice the original, early-1970s price tag on City Hall East, the 18-story government annex where the bulk of the displaced employees will work during the 38 months of construction.

The meter keeps ticking, jumping $55,000 for each day of delay--months before construction begins on City Hall, work is now 14 days behind schedule.

Most of the money comes from bond measures passed in 1989 and 1990 to make seismic improvements, remove asbestos and add fire sprinklers. And, while they're at it, workers are building new offices--bigger, better offices--for the mayor and members of the Los Angeles City Council.

Lawmakers have selected new suites in City Hall East, picking corner offices or digs close to meeting rooms by seniority (four members elected on the same day had to draw lots to decide who would go first). At a public hearing today, council members will ponder another weighty question: how officials' chairs in the new council chamber should be configured--facing one another, as they are now, or turned toward the public.

And, as demolition, construction and reconstruction swings into gear, the rumor rumbling through the old City Hall's marble rotunda is that the council may never return to its historic home.

"It's L.A.'s landmark . . . and it's an architectural statement, but as it relates to efficiency for office space, it's not that great," said Bill Koenig, who is overseeing the relocation. "City Hall East is almost a perfect building, the architects tell me, because it's square. City Hall ain't."

Even Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, said it is more important that public meetings return to their historic home than that politicians' business offices be in City Hall. Only a few key lawmakers have their offices in the historic, and recently renovated, state Capitol in Sacramento; the rest are in nearby quarters.

"Growth happens," she said. "When the state Capitol was built, there wasn't a full-time Legislature. As the shape of government changes, you have to make allowances. The use of the building is probably more important than whose office is where."

Council members' offices in the old City Hall are cramped and awkward, sandwiched between pillars and other architectural gems and then rearranged umpteen times as staffs have expanded. Most have about 2,100 to 2,300 square feet of office space; when one member leaves, there is typically a major office reshuffling as senior members scramble to upgrade their quarters.

"Some of them are pretty nice, and some of them are terribly inadequate. They're certainly not equal," said Dan Rosenfeld, who is in charge of real estate for the city. "Frankly, they're pretty ratty."

The new City Hall East floor plan calls for 15 nearly identical suites with 2,700 or 3,000 square feet and their own conference room, toilet and sink (only 11 council members now have private restrooms). Three lawmakers will have corner offices on the third floor, where the new chamber and four smaller hearing rooms will be located. The fifth and sixth floors will each have six council offices--four located in corners and two more expansive ones in the centers.

The first members are scheduled to move to City Hall East this fall, with the older building totally emptied by March. The mayor's 70-person staff, which is now split among three separate locations, will soon take over the entire eighth floor of City Hall East, with deputies getting offices with windows.

Unlike the dark paneling and intricate mosaics decorating City Hall, the annex is a drab facility whose walls are all the same pale yellow hue--except for the dirt stains--and whose new offices, replete with hunter green and gray modular furniture, resemble those of an anonymous corporation.

And, before anyone can move, each floor of City Hall East must be practically demolished and rebuilt, and new space found for the people now working there.

Most of the funding for the move comes from bonds that voters approved long ago for seismic improvements, asbestos removal and fire sprinkler installations in City Hall. But costs have increased because of all the reconstruction at City Hall East, and may go up again if floor plans have to be rearranged once more when the original City Hall is reopened.

City Hall East cost less than $30 million to build more than 20 years ago; fixing it up for the temporary tenants will nearly double the price tag.

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