'Like Sardines' in Culver City : City Hall Jam Spurs Civic Center Plans

Times Staff Writer

Culver City will consider a plan Monday night to construct a combined city hall/civic center complex within two to three years.

Officials want to replace the city's 59-year-old building at Culver Boulevard and Duquesne Avenue because it is overcrowded, inaccessible to the handicapped and not in conformance with building and safety codes.

The city is also trying to interest various agencies in a large-scale civic center to help pay for the project. So far, the Culver City Unified School District, the Municipal Court, the Chamber of Commerce and others have inquired about leasing office space in the proposed complex.

Meeting in Council Chambers

The City Council will discuss financing, sites and other aspects of the plan at its 7:30 p.m. meeting in the council chambers.

Jody Hall Esser, community development director, said the plan calls for about 50,000 square feet for city offices and council chambers at a cost of $4.7 million to $5.2 million. A parking lot could add as much as $2 million to the budjget.

She said the city pays nearly $110,000 each year to rent outside office space because the 23,000-square-foot City Hall is filled beyond capacity.

"Some office people are literally crammed in like sardines," she said, adding that because the council has no main office in City Hall, members must borrow an unoccupied office to conduct their business.

Possible sites include the 1.6 acres on which City Hall now stands; 1.38 acres on the southwest corner of Culver Boulevard and Irving Street; 1.8 acres on Washington Boulevard between Irving and Van Buren Place; 1.52 acres bounded by Culver, Washington and Main Street; 3.5 acres on the northwest corner of Culver Boulevard and Overland Avenue, and a lot in Veterans Park.

The Redevelopment Agency has acquired parts of five of the sites, Hall-Esser said.

The school district is interested in either leasing space or sharing ownership in the proposed center, she said. Representatives of Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Culver City) also are considering locating his district office in the complex, she said.

The county Board of Supervisors recently endorsed a plan to rent space for courtrooms and Municipal Court offices in the proposed complex.

Building a new city hall has been discussed in Culver City since the late 1970s. The existing building violates state and city fire, earthquake, energy conservation and handicapped-accessibility codes.

Plans for the new building have been postponed because of a lack of construction funds and higher priorities such as private developments in the downtown area, Hall-Esser said.

Built in 1927

City Hall, built in 1927, once included the city's Police Department, Municipal Court and Chamber of Commerce on its first floor. A theater with a raised stage was on the second floor. The mezzanine level once included the city jail.

The police station and city jail are now in a building about half a block behind City Hall on Duquesne. Municipal Court is half a mile away at Overland Avenue and Culver Boulevard. The Chamber of Commerce is in the Oasis Petroleum Building next to Fox Hills Mall.

The two-story City Hall is inaccessible to the wheelchair-bound because it has no elevator. The city installed a wheelchair lift in the council chambers several years ago in response to protests from handicapped residents.

The building, constructed of unreinforced concrete masonry, is one of more than 80 old buildings in Culver City that would not survive a major earthquake. Last March, the city's insurers dropped earthquake coverage because of high risk.

James Tuetimez, a building department official, said City Hall does not have enough exits to accommodate occupants during a major fire or earthquake.

"The exits (in 1927) were probably OK for a theater, but now that it has been converted into an office building the entries and exits are not adequate," he said.

Tuetimez said that the city is not required by law to correct code violations in the old City Hall. If Culver City builds a new city hall, however, he said it would have to conform to the codes.

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