Court Fight Possible as W. Hollywood Votes for Civic Center in Park

Times Staff Writer

The West Hollywood City Council has voted 4 to 1 to build its long-anticipated civic center on the city's western edge at West Hollywood Park.

Opponents immediately vowed not to abandon their efforts to prevent the $25-million facility from being built in the park.

"We intend to fight them and win every step of the way," said attorney Ira Stein, a community activist who has been a leading opponent of the civic center proposal.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, which has long opposed using the park as a civic center site, indicated that the group may take legal steps to halt the plan.

"It's unfortunate that (city officials) have chosen to view parkland as chattel rather than as a place of respite from the very things they want to put up there--buildings," said Jill Swift, head of the local parks committee of the Sierra Club's Angeles Chapter.

She and others portrayed the council's decision Monday as the "beginning of the next round" in the months-old debate over whether to build a civic center and where to locate it.

The decision comes on the heels of a recommendation two weeks ago by the city's Public Facilities Board against building the civic center in the park. Its vote was 5 to 0, with two members absent.

The park, situated on San Vicente Boulevard between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, occupies a six-acre parcel of land along with an auditorium, library, swimming pool, parking lot and county public works maintenance facility.

The civic center would incorporate many of those facilities, as well as a city hall and possibly a new fire station, while retaining a softball field, tennis courts and picnic areas.

Supporters say that the civic center's design would increase recreational space at the park by 30%.

Opponents are skeptical.

"I don't think you can count putting a tennis court on top of a roof as preserving park space," Swift said. "That's a discounted park as far as I'm concerned."

Councilman Steve Schulte, who cast the dissenting vote, called placing new civic buildings in one of the city's only two recreational areas "the wrong thing to do.

"The burden should be for those favoring the proposal to find options for parkland elsewhere and then come back and offer this plan," he said.

The council's action followed several impassioned pleas from opponents of the project.

"I feel like somebody coming up at the last minute when the ship is sinking and lowering the boats," said F. Peter Freed, a management consultant.

"What kind of signal are we sending residents by taking one of our parks and building a $25-million Taj Mahal? . . . We're supposed to be an urban village. Are you going to take away our village green?"

Legal Considerations

Stein and others maintain that the proposed civic center might violate state law by depriving West Hollywood of much-needed parkland--something that city officials, including City Atty. Michael Jenkins, dispute.

State law allows for municipal auditoriums, libraries and swimming pools to be built in parks, but Stein said that building municipal offices on the site means that the city must secure parkland elsewhere.

He charged that city officials have "misstated the intent of the law" in holding that the city is not obligated to secure additional park space.

Most council members have argued that they know of nowhere else to put the civic center in the densely populated city of 1.9 square miles.

"There is no ideal solution," Councilman John Heilman said. "We desperately need the civic center. The park is the best possible location, and we will be making a big mistake if we do not put it there."

Heilman served on a 14-member jury that in October selected a design by Boston architects Edmund W. Chang and Robert Sherman in a nationwide competition among more than 300 architects.

Towers, Portico

The design envisions a sprawling collection of low buildings, highlighted by two observation towers and an undulating portico along San Vicente Boulevard.

In November, the architects amended their plan to eliminate ground-level parking lots in favor of subterranean parking.

The changes, they said, would help increase space for buildings from 31,315 square feet to 68,806 square feet while also increasing open and recreational space from 218,772 square feet to as much as 283,803 square feet.

A potential legal challenge based on the Public Parks Preservation Act is not the only possible hurdle the proposal faces.

Condition of Transfer

The deed under which Los Angeles County handed over part of the park to the city in 1985 when West Hollywood was incorporated contains a restriction that says the land could revert to the county if West Hollywood uses it for anything other than a park.

County Supervisor Ed Edelman, whose district includes West Hollywood, has not publicly stated a position on the matter.

Schulte, after casting his dissenting vote, joined other City Council members in agreeing to appoint a task force to study ways to finance the project.

The task force will also explore the possibility of locating several public services, such as social services and programs for the elderly, on the city's east side. And it will consider optional sites for a proposed new fire station, which some council members have indicated that they do not want to see included as part of the civic center.

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