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Prop. 1 ‘Dead From Beginning,’ Gates Says

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, a principal backer of the failed police hiring tax measure, said Wednesday that Proposition 1 “was dead from the beginning” and blamed its smashing defeat in Tuesday’s election on “an underfunded and somewhat inept campaign.”

At about the same time that Gates issued his harsh post-mortem, several City Council members set the stage for a new confrontation with Mayor Tom Bradley by resurrecting a proposal for 100 more police officers. Bradley vetoed an identical plan two weeks ago, and proponents failed to muster the votes for an override. On Tuesday night, Bradley threatened to reject any renewal of the budget issue.

But council backers of the 100-officer plan said the defeat of Proposition 1 places the proposal in a new light and predicted that Bradley’s veto would be overridden next time. Councilman Hal Bernson, sponsor of the latest effort, acknowledged that an override will be difficult, but added, “The real question is whether (Bradley) has the guts to veto it.”

Gates, a longtime critic of Bradley’s spending priorities, had joined the mayor in the campaign to pass Proposition 1. At a joint news conference with Bradley last week, Gates even praised the mayor’s current police spending plan as “the best budget I have had for several years.” But in Wednesday’s statement, Gates revealed that clear doubts were hidden behind his original support.

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“My fiscally conservative nature told me that we should not go to the taxpayers in the first place,” Gates said in his statement. “But Proposition 1 was the only game in town which would provide us with more police officers.

“There clearly is an aversion on the part of homeowners to pay any more taxes on their property, and I think that is quite understandable,” Gates said.

In final unofficial returns, Proposition 1--which would have raised property taxes to hire an additional 1,000 police officers over the next five years--attracted a dismal 41% of Tuesday’s vote. The measure needed approval by two-thirds of the voters to pass.

A breakdown of returns showed that it received the necessary two-thirds only from voters in the council district that encompasses most of the downtown area. It received majority approval in six other districts encompassing the Hollywood, West Los Angeles, Wilshire, South-Central and Silver Lake areas.

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But the issue failed badly in most of the eight remaining districts, including all of those in the San Fernando Valley. Voters in Councilman Bernson’s 12th District recorded the greatest opposition, voting down the measure by a 3-1 margin.

The election defeat was nearly identical to that suffered in 1981 by a Gates-drafted ballot plan that would have hiked property taxes to pay for enough officers to boost the force from 7,100 to an eventual 8,500 police officers. That year, Proposition A received 42% approval.

Gates blamed Tuesday’s results on a combination of factors.

“The City Council’s failure to provide safeguards to ensure that the funds would go for additional officers, and an underfunded and somewhat inept campaign, doomed the measure,” Gates said. A Police Department spokesman said Gates phoned in the statement while attending a retreat for top department officials being held in Oxnard, and would not be available for elaboration on his remarks.

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Stephen Sulkes, Proposition 1 campaign coordinator, defended the effort to pass the measure.

“I think it’s clear that the people of Los Angeles did not want to vote to raise their property taxes,” Sulkes said. “I will chalk the chief’s statement up to his disappointment at the voters’ not passing Proposition 1.”

Sulkes, vice president of David Townsend & Associates, which was a consultant to Bradley’s successful reelection bid in April, said that proponents had only about $130,000 to promote the measure and only about a month to prepare a campaign. He added that Gates never expressed any disagreement with the way the campaign was being run, nor offered any suggestions as to how it could be improved.

“There were no disagreements, no suggestions, no alternatives or plans,” Sulkes said.

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A spokeswoman for Bradley said the mayor, who has often been at odds with the chief over police funding, was informed of Gates’ remarks but would not comment publicly on them.

But earlier in the day, Bradley reiterated his disappointment over the defeat of the ballot measure, although he had conceded early in the campaign that passage would be an uphill battle.

“I will honor my pledge to hire more police officers whenever the city’s financial resources are different,” Bradley said. “At my recommendation, we hired 100 more officers this year (bringing the level of sworn personnel from 6,900 to 7,000) and I intend to propose we hire more as soon as we have the necessary money.”

The Bernson plan, identical to the one vetoed last month, calls for the transfer of about $2.6 million allocated for purchase of new unmarked patrol cars to hire 100 more officers.

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