The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday voted to make a $4-million down payment on land for a new police station in the San Fernando Valley. The approval came despite arguments that the money should be used to upgrade the scandal-plagued Rampart division station.
The council voted 11 to 2 to buy land on Sepulveda Boulevard in Mission Hills for the station, which was promised in 1989 but never built.
"We clearly believe the sixth station in the Valley is absolutely essential for this department to continue to absorb additional officers plus to give better service to the community," Police Chief Bernard C. Parks told the council.
The new Valley station is the LAPD's top priority, Parks said, noting that each of the five Valley stations covers about 45 square miles, more than twice the area policed by non-Valley stations. That, Parks said, means longer response times in the Valley.
Building the long-overdue station is seen as critical to generating Valley support for a proposed bond issue for police improvements planned for next year. But opponents pointed out that improvements at the Rampart station were promised in 1989 but never made.
Dissenting Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg said ignoring Rampart in favor of the Valley sends a message to her constituents that "there are just not enough voters there to make them a priority when it comes to spending these dollars. And that's a message that stinks."
Allegations of corruption in Rampart have triggered the worst LAPD scandal in decades. Goldberg said overcrowding at the station forced the LAPD to move specialized officers and detectives away from the police station, making oversight more difficult.
"Then one wants to know why there are difficulties at Rampart," Goldberg said. "Gee, I don't know. Maybe it's because the detectives aren't located in the division because there is no room for them in the division."
But Parks said there have been interim improvements at Rampart.
"We have gotten more space so Rampart is not overcrowded," he said.
Supporters of the north Valley station argued that construction in Mission Hills is essential to improve Valley policing.
"In that part of the Valley, this is going to mean an increased police presence and a decrease in response times," said Councilman Alex Padilla, whose district includes the station site.
"When voters see construction underway they will see a good faith effort being put forward by the city," Padilla said.
Councilman Mike Hernandez, the other dissenting vote, said he is frustrated to see scarce city resources go to the Valley and not his urban core district.
"I am convinced that there has to be secession in this city and I'm convinced it is my part of the city, the inner city, which has to secede from the Valley," Hernandez said. "I say that because we continue to prioritize the Valley."
Parks said replacement of Rampart is a priority, and would be part of any new bond measure put before voters next year. The city had originally considered putting the bond on the November 2000 ballot, but Councilman John Ferraro said there may be room on the March 2000 ballot for a bond measure.
The council agreed Tuesday to spend much of the $4 million to buy the property at 11121 Sepulveda Blvd. and begin design work. The station will cost another $17 million to build.
Officials said it will take four to six months to evaluate the vacant Mission Hills site to make sure it does not have problems with toxic contamination or unstable soil that would disqualify it. Construction could begin in about 18 months.
A new obstacle to the project was raised Tuesday, when representatives of DaimlerChrysler said they are about to close escrow on the same Mission Hills property sought by the LAPD.
Developers plan to put a car dealership on the property, said Duane Cody, a representative of the car maker. Cody said the dealership will provide 75 new jobs in Mission Hills and the site is in a key location for selling cars in the Valley.
The council voted to identify possible alternative locations in case the Sepulveda Boulevard site cannot be used.
If the site is determined to be a good one, the city will probably buy it from its new owner, using its powers of eminent domain if necessary, officials said.