Having failed once before, opponents of a proposed civic center in West Hollywood claimed this week to have enough signatures to place on the April, 1990, ballot an initiative aimed at preventing the center from being built in West Hollywood Park.
“The people at City Hall who’ve pushed the project ahead, hoping to convince the public they’ve gone too far to stop, are in for a surprise,” said Tom Larkin, chairman of the Save Our Park Alliance. “We’re back, and we’re confident.”
Meanwhile, City Manager Paul Brotzman hinted that city officials may try to challenge the legality of the initiative, should it qualify for the ballot.
“There is some question as to whether such an initiative could be used to restrict the City Council’s decision on how to use park space,” he said. “It’s something the city attorney will need to research, if that is what the council directs.”
Four of the five council members are on record as supporting the project, with Councilman Steve Schulte opposed.
Larkin’s group on Monday submitted 3,358 signatures to the city clerk’s office. Only 2,182 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the 1990 ballot. The validation process is expected to take a month, City Clerk Mary Tyson said.
The number of signatures submitted by the group is 85 more than the valid signatures needed to qualify for a special election this summer, but Larkin and others acknowledged that they expect several hundred of the signatures to be invalid.
Last July, the group submitted 2,806 signatures, but after an official count by the Los Angeles County registrar’s office, the group fell 344 valid signatures short of the 2,066 needed then to place the initiative on the 1990 ballot.
“We’re a lot more optimistic this time because about half of our signatures were obtained outside the polls at the election last November, so we know we’ve got a lot of registered voters,” Larkin said.
However, he and others opposed to placing the civic center in the park declined to predict as they have in the past that the prospect of a ballot initiative in 1990 will cripple the city’s efforts to go ahead with the project.
“We don’t intend to rely on just one strategy,” Schulte said. “Assuming that the initiative goes forward, I suspect every effort will be made to get the shovel in the ground before April, 1990, to make it look like a fait accompli. “
West Hollywood voters are to decide next month whether to approve a $7.6-million bond measure to build a new library and fire station, and opponents of the civic center have stepped up their efforts to defeat the measure, portraying it as a referendum on the center.
They view the measure--which requires two-thirds’ approval by voters in order to pass--as a backhanded attempt to squeeze more money for the civic center, since both the library and fire station were originally included in the center’s design.
Angered by plans to use scarce park space to build what some have derisively referred to as a “Taj Mahal” in the park, opponents have argued that the city should dip into its $14-million reserve fund to pay for the fire station and library and then let voters decide whether the center should be built.
If approved, the bond issue would increase property taxes by up to $33.47 per $100,000 of assessed valuation over the next 20 years to pay for a new fire station at a site yet to be determined and quadruple the size of the county branch library that serves West Hollywood.
In a letter mailed this week to 3,500 property owners and business people, a group called Fair Representation for West Hollywood urged rejection of the bond measure. The letter was signed by Schulte, Larkin and others.
“We’re putting up a strong fight against (the bond measure) and we think we’re going to win,” Larkin said. “Once they (civic center supporters) see the measure go down to defeat, and we’ve qualified the ballot initiative, maybe they will wake up and smell the coffee.”
Financing the Project
In the past, Brotzman and other officials have insisted that the prospect of a ballot initiative would not interfere with West Hollywood’s ability to finance the project.
City officials have budgeted $1.5 million for civic center planning for this fiscal year ending June 30. Besides architects, a project engineer has been on the job for several months, and preliminary design work and site surveying continues.
The center was originally estimated to cost $23 million. City officials last year revised their cost estimates while scaling down the project, saying that the “first phase” of the project, minus the library and fire station, would cost $23 million.
Officials have said that all elements of the project as originally outlined--including a comprehensive center for senior citizens on the city’s east side, a child-care center and other recreation facilities--could cost as much as $50 million and require financing from the sale of bonds and other sources.
In an effort to contain costs, a new design presented to the council in January eliminates underground parking in favor of an above-ground parking structure, changes the configuration of the council chambers and relocates a performing arts auditorium, scheduled for a future phase.
The 21,000-square-foot library proposed in the bond measure would include up to 6,000 square feet to house the International Gay and Lesbian Archives, an extensive private collection of gay and lesbian research materials whose owners have expressed a desire to see placed permanently in West Hollywood.
A two-engine fire station would replace an existing single-engine station on a narrow residential street that officials acknowledge is seismically unsafe.
While Los Angeles County provides library and fire services to West Hollywood, officials have said that county funds are not available to replace either facility.