Opponents of a proposed $25-million civic center project in West Hollywood claimed this week to have enough signatures to place on the April, 1990, ballot an initiative aimed at preventing the complex from being built in West Hollywood Park.
"We think this sends a clear message to the City Council that they'd better sit up and take notice instead of continuing to spend money for a project that people don't want," said Tom Larkin, co-chairman of the Save Our Park Alliance.
He and others opposed to placing the civic center in the park predicted that the prospect of a ballot initiative almost two years away--when the next municipal election is scheduled--will cripple the city's efforts to go ahead with the project.
"Without even discussing the politics of it, I think it raises serious questions as to whether they will even be able to finance the thing," Larkin said. "How can you float a bond issue when the voters are waiting for the chance to decide whether they even want this?"
However, city officials--who have budgeted $1.5 million for civic center planning in the fiscal year that began July 1--quickly rejected the idea that the latest turn of events may paralyze the project.
"The City Council has directed us to go forward with the civic center planning, and that's what we're doing," Assistant City Manager Jeri Chenelle said.
And Mark Winogrond, the city's director of community development, insisted that the prospect of a ballot initiative would not interfere with West Hollywood's ability to finance the project.
"Construction was not to start until mid-1990 anyway, and you sell bonds immediately prior to construction if you want to get the lowest possible rate, so we really don't see a hindrance as far is the financing is concerned," he said. "The project has the strong support of four-fifths of the City Council, and we'll continue the preliminary design, site surveying, and all of those things in the interim."
Larkin's group on Monday submitted 2,806 signatures to the city clerk's office. Only 2,066 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the 1990 ballot.
Upon presenting the signatures, Larkin called on the City Council to exercise its authority to place the initiative on the November general election ballot "to remove the cloud that will continue to hang over this project until citizens are allowed to voice their opinion." However, City Clerk Mary Tyson indicated that even if the council expressed interest in calling for an early vote on the issue, it is probably too late to certify the signatures in time for the November ballot.
After considering 19 other sites, the City Council in January voted 4 to 1 to build the civic center in the park, with Councilman Steve Schulte casting the dissenting vote.
Schulte has said that the civic center plan is too expensive and that West Hollywood, which has only two public recreation areas, has too little park space to consider constructing new buildings in one of them.
In an interview this week, Schulte called the plan "the B-1 Bomber of West Hollywood," saying that, if built, the civic center will cost "far more than the $25 million or $28 million that's being talked about."
Critical of Strategy
Both he and Larkin were critical of what they insist is the strategy of civic center supporters to push ahead with the project in the face of what they claim is widespread public displeasure with the plan.
"I think the city plans to go ahead and vest this project and spend as much as possible so it will look like it's too late to turn back by the time people finally get the opportunity to vote on the matter," Schulte said.
Supporters of the project disagree.
"If anything we have gone ahead very slowly," said Councilwoman Abbe Land. "I personally would like to see the civic center planning move ahead as expeditiously as possible."
Land, who was overwhelmingly reelected in April, said door-to-door canvassing during the campaign convinced her "that the majority of West Hollywood residents want the civic center built and they think, as the council has determined, that West Hollywood Park is the best place for it."
The park, on San Vicente Boulevard between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, shares a six-acre parcel 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 the park's softball field, tennis courts and picnic areas.
The design envisions a sprawling collection of low buildings, highlighted by two observation towers and a portico along San Vicente Boulevard.
When opponents complained last year that park space was being sacrificed for civic buildings, the design was amended to eliminate ground-level parking lots in favor of subterranean parking.
Architects said the revised plan would more than double the space devoted to buildings while increasing open and recreational space by 30%. Opponents claimed otherwise, saying the park space listed by the architects would include a rooftop tennis court.
Last November, the city spent almost $900,000 to acquire a building next to the park that city officials have acknowledged could be torn down to expand the park. The city is negotiating to buy another parcel next to the park for $1.5 million.
Schulte has charged that the "public rationale" for the acquisitions "is to add park space. . . . The covert rationale is to ensure that the civic center project does not reduce the size of the park space."
He said the initiative campaign was evidence that "the folks who oppose the current plan are absolutely serious and ought to be taken seriously.
"I think the people who have supported (the project) all along just sort of assumed that we would go away," Schulte said. "This should demonstrate that that isn't going to happen."