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Borrowing Urged for New LAPD Center

Council's top advisor suggests using general fund as backing for $150 million in loans.

November 26, 2002|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Amid new reports of health problems at Parker Center, the Los Angeles City Council's top advisor recommended Monday that the city replace the Police Department's aging headquarters.

Chief Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton suggested that the best way to construct a new building is to borrow $150 million against the city general fund, rather than to ask voters to approve bonds and a tax increase.

Deaton made his recommendation to the City Council as the Los Angeles Police Department issued a report stating that, since 1999, nine employees have filed workers' compensation claims about respiratory and skin-rash problems allegedly caused by the building's old heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Parts of the ventilation systems are disintegrating, "resulting in the discharge of large amounts of material from the registers," former Acting Police Chief Martin Pomeroy said in a report released Monday.

The problem is serious enough that city officials have drafted a $12-million plan to replace the heating and air-conditioning systems, and another $12-million plan to bring the eight-story building up to fire and life-safety codes.

Deaton told council members at a hearing Monday, however, that a 1996 report by consultant Larry Kosmont had recommended that the building be replaced rather than renovated.

The council's Information Technology and General Services Committee asked Monday for a briefing on the health issues and agreed to form a working group to complete the plan for a new headquarters building.

The group also will explore leasing office space for police operations during the construction period.

In proposing a new police headquarters to a City Council panel Monday, Deaton cited the Kosmont study, which detailed the structural problems with Parker Center.

The consultant's report said the building had a "noticeable lean" from earthquake damage or foundation settling, and, among other things, needed a new roof, better plumbing and asbestos removal.

The building was given a yellow tag designation after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, meaning it had been damaged but could remain open during repairs.

LAPD officials said the quake repairs did not involve major structural improvements necessary to bring the building up to current fire and safety codes.

Councilman Dennis Zine, a member of the committee, said he was particularly concerned that the building has been cited by the Fire Department and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations.

The building, which opened in 1955, lacks visual and audio alarm and fire sprinkler systems required by city fire codes for high-rise structures, LAPD officials said.

Deaton, one of the most influential administrators at City Hall, made his recommendation a day before a real estate firm is scheduled to issue a report stating that it makes financial sense to move employees out of Parker Center into leased space until a new building can be constructed.

Police Commission President Rick Caruso said the report by CB Richard Ellis will state that the cost of operating Parker Center is so high and office rents downtown so low that the move could be done for a nominal additional cost that would be offset by safety concerns for police employees.

"They have concluded it is absolutely practical and feasible, and in my mind it should have been done long ago," Caruso said, adding that he was waiting for the real estate firm to quantify the nominal cost.

Caruso said the real estate report could clear the way to begin moving people out of Parker Center in 60 to 90 days, but council members voiced concern Monday that the issue needs to go through a review process before any move is scheduled.

The council committee asked that the working group report back with an action plan in January.

With voters having rejected a 1999 bond measure that would have funded a new police headquarters, Deaton said the council should consider borrowing the $150 million needed for the project and paying it off with existing general funds.

The city long ago created a Municipal Improvement Corp. of Los Angeles with powers to issue tax-exempt certificates of participation, which are like bonds to provide long-term financing.

Deaton estimated that such a funding scheme would require $15 million annually from the city general fund, with an additional $5 million per year to lease space in private buildings for Parker Center operations until the new building is constructed.

The lease issue sparked some tension Monday. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said the city already had contracted with a real estate consultant to handle leasing issues, so Caruso's use of CB Richard Ellis is problematic.

Joe Gunn, the Police Commission's executive director, told the council panel that CB Richard Ellis is working pro bono, and had been brought in so the commission could be part of the decision-making process.

He conceded that the council, not the commission, has authority to approve leases and construction projects.

Deaton said he thought the Police Commission brought in the real estate firm "to provide extra heat" to get the council moving more quickly.


Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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