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Proposal for LAPD Offices, Jail in Little Tokyo Criticized

People say proposed facility could leave newly freed criminals roaming neighborhood near a popular Buddhist temple.

May 17, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

A proposal to build police headquarters and a jail near a Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo is drawing ire from community members concerned about jail inmates, street closures and gun-toting officers in their midst.

Recently released preliminary plans for a public safety complex downtown include an occupational health services division building, a police motor transport division facility, a day-care center and a pair of parking lots at the site on East 1st Street.

A new fire station and emergency operations center could be located nearby.

But it was the 512-bed jail that triggered criticism from residents and real estate developers at a community meeting this week.

Most of the more than 150 people who gathered at the Japan America Theatre raised their hands when asked whether anyone was uncomfortable with the plan. They took turns conjuring up images of security-induced street closures in the vicinity of the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which each year holds an average of 30 weddings, 150 funerals and 1,200 family memorial services.

Some community members said they were unsettled by the notion of armed police officers and newly released jail inmates wandering near the temple. The temple, in the 800 block of East 1st Street at North Vignes Street, houses a day-care center where children are "cocooned" from violence and conflict, they said.

"It's a concern to me -- the proximity of the jail to our child day-care center, to our programs for senior citizens, to youth activities," said Bob Nakamura, whose parents donated money for the temple.

The Rev. George T. Matsubayashi, the temple's lead minister, said he is also worried about a parking lot directly behind the building that the city has offered to buy from the temple. The temple relies on the parking lot, he said. The temple and parking lot are east of the proposed site, which is bordered by East 1st, Temple and North Alameda streets.

A representative of a real estate firm developing 500 housing units across the street wondered what the jail would look like and how many people would be arrested and released each day.

"As a residential developer, our job is to sell units to people," said Alex Wong of Trammell Crow Residential. "It makes all the difference in the world to us when [potential buyers] ask, 'What's that building over there?' "

Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Sharon Papa said the new jail would function like the one near Parker Center, where suspects are held before being moved to a County Jail. A few inmates, usually those who have not committed violent crimes, are released from the jail, another LAPD official said.

Although options drawn up by a consultant depict the jail as a stand-alone building, Ron Deaton, the city's chief legislative analyst, said it could be possible to incorporate it into the new police headquarters.

Funding for some of the buildings would come from two voter-approved measures, the $534-million Proposition F, to build fire and animal facilities, and the $600-million Proposition Q, for citywide public safety facilities.

Some community members said they were unaware of the effect that Proposition Q would have on Little Tokyo.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area, said she plans to form a steering committee to give residents a say and to hold a follow-up meeting to discuss their ideas. Perry said she might take a position on the proposal once the city begins an environmental impact study.

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