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Mayor, Council Tussle Over How to Use Building

June 16, 2004|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

Setting the stage for a showdown over a new home for the Los Angeles Police Department, city leaders are poised to spend more than $100 million to buy and renovate a downtown building for city offices.

But even as the City Council is expected to approve the purchase of the Transamerica Broadway Building on the south side of downtown today, the mayor and council appear split over whether the building should be police headquarters.

Mayor James K. Hahn is arguing that moving the department permanently to the new building would be a cost-effective way to quickly get the LAPD out of its aging and dilapidated headquarters at Parker Center on Los Angeles Street.

But the mayor's plans are running into opposition from the City Council, which last year rejected his push to expand the size of the police force.

Many council members have resisted relocating the police so far from City Hall and instead favor construction of a new headquarters near the Civic Center.

These council members, at the urging of Chief Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton, want to move other city departments to the Broadway Building from offices that the city currently leases around downtown.

For months, that debate, as well as uncertainty about how the Broadway Building was selected, stalled plans to buy the 426,000-square-foot building from a partnership that includes former Laker star Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

Several council members questioned why Deaton and the mayor's office chose that building over others in the area.

But a study recently completed by consultant KPMG found no fault with the city's selection process and persuaded skeptics to approve the purchase.

On Tuesday, council members who raised the most questions about the deal said they were satisfied that the city would be well-served by buying the Broadway Building for $35 million, in large part because it would allow the city to get out of millions of dollars of leases it has with downtown landlords.

"The third-party review provided us with the justification that this is a good deal for the city," said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who had been among the leading skeptics of the deal.

Greuel said she would push the City Council to approve the sale and move the Department of Public Works into the building from its current location in two aging office buildings that the city is leasing in the historic core of downtown.

That plan, proposed by Deaton in February, would require the city to do substantially less to upgrade the Broadway Building.

City officials estimate that outfitting the building for the public works department would cost about $60 million, compared with more than $150 million for the Police Department.

City leaders also are contemplating construction of a new police headquarters downtown that could cost more than $300 million.

Other council members, including former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, indicated Tuesday that they, too, favor buying the building for use by city departments other than the Police Department.

That could put the City Council on a collision course with the mayor, who has been arguing since March to move the Police Department permanently to the Transamerica complex at 12th and Broadway.

Hahn said this week that he still wants to do that. "I think LAPD has the right to feel a little bit like this is a bait-and-switch," he said. "They thought they were going to get the opportunity to get out of this old building into better facilities."

"But it's not over yet.... I'm still the mayor, last time I checked."

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