Nearly 20 years after a study reported that Torrance had outgrown its recreational and cultural facilities, the City Council has approved final plans for a new $12-million complex, including a 500-seat theater that some residents say is unnecessary.
The master plan adopted Tuesday night includes:
- The 27,800-square-foot, 500-seat theater.
- 30,000 square feet of classrooms.
- A 5,280-square-foot community meeting hall.
- A 1,300-square-foot addition to the Joslyn Center, a community hall.
- A 1,200-square foot addition to the recreation center.
- Parking for 600 cars.
- A Japanese garden.
The project, which is expected to break ground early next year, will be built in two phases. The first, at a cost of just under $9.7 million, will include all new facilities; the second, costing nearly $2.2 million, will involve the remodeling of existing facilities. The total cost will be $11.8 million.
The city will raise $9.4 million by issuing bonds that will be repaid from the city's general revenues. The remainder will come from cable television utility taxes, federal revenue-sharing money and the city's general fund. There has been some discussion of a fund-raising campaign to pay for the theater portion, but no definite plans have been made.
The city council chamber was overflowing with project supporters, including members of the Torrance Civic Chorale, clad in red T-shirts, who gave their endorsement in song, and members of the Children's Theater who skipped up and down the center aisle dressed as clowns and animals.
"Your presentation was touching," Councilwoman Katy Geissert told the Chorale.
But not all in the audience supported the theater. Critics included the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce and the Southwood Homeowners' Assn.
The chamber agreed that expansion of the recreation center is needed, but in a statement issued April 16, it urged the city to use "extreme caution" before proceeding with the project.
Instead of a theater with fixed seats, the chamber recommended a multipurpose structure that could be used by community groups and the business community, including overflow crowds from conventions at nearby hotels.
"We don't feel that a state-of-art setup is needed in the community," said Robert Seitz, general manager of the chamber, who asserted that the 500-seat Norris Theater in Rolling Hills Estates and the 2,000-seat Marsee Theater at El Camino College are under-used. "We feel a multipurpose facility better serves the needs of the community and that it lends itself to other uses that could generate income for the city."
Some residents complained that the $3 million it will cost to build the theater and $120,000 annual operating costs could better be spent repairing streets and sidewalks or adding paramedics to the Fire Department.
"If we are unable to fix sidewalks for months, or add paramedics, it is difficult to see getting into debt for a theater," said George Foreman, a resident.
Mayor James Armstrong, a strong supporter of the project, told the audience that public safety is the city's first concern.
"We will never finish fixing sidewalks or trimming trees," he said. "We are not imperiling public safety in any way."
Councilman Bill Applegate, who cast the only vote against the project, said he was opposed to the city going into debt for a theater.
"Sometimes things are not politically smart, but practically necessary," he said in announcing his opposition. "If we go out and institute another bond issue, that's a bill that has to be paid before anything else. We are taking away the flexibility" to use the money elsewhere.
Applegate moved that the question of issuing bonds to pay for the theater be put on the March, 1986, municipal ballot, but the motion died for lack of a second.
"I think we can afford the project," Armstrong said. "I think the timing is now."
In 1963, architects W. J. Fulton & Associates designed the Joslyn Center as the first phase of a multiphase project. Two years later, a city study concluded that "the demand generated for Torrance citizens for athletic, musical and theatrical events, civic and club meetings, dances and banquets and other such activities . . . could no longer be accommodated in existing facilities."
A recent report by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation said the demand expressed in the 1960s remains today: "The success and popularity of the many performing and visual arts classes offerred by the Torrance Parks and Recreation Department have overburdened available facilities."
The report said performing arts classes are held at various parks and aerobics and tumbling classes are held in the locker room of the city pool because there is no room at the Joslyn Center. In addition, community groups are unable to use the center for meetings, as originally intended, because of its intensive use by the city and senior citizen groups.
The city held seven community meetings between November and March to get opinions on the project. About 130 people attended the meetings and most reacted positively, city staff said.
Some changes were adopted as a result of those meetings, including enlargement of the classroom area and the addition of the community meeting hall instead of a rehearsal hall.