Polls May Shape Pier's Future

Times Staff Writer

Redondo Beach is moving closer to a decision on rebuilding its fire- and storm-damaged municipal pier, but city officials say many questions must be answered first.

Among those questions:

Who will make the decision--the City Council, or the voters through a referendum?

What would a new pier look like? Would it be bigger, smaller, or the same size as the original pier, parts of which were destroyed in a series of ocean storms and a fire last year?

Who will pay for it?

The City Council voted unanimously last Sept. 13 to rebuild the Redondo Pier and authorize preliminary studies on how it could be done. But since then, a new council has taken office, and the members have taken what one councilman called a cautious approach to the whole question.

Although a majority of the council appears to favor a referendum, none of the council members have formally proposed putting the issue on the ballot.

In their election campaigns earlier this year, council members Terry Ward and Kay Horrell said they were willing to let the people decide. Stevan Colin, Barbara Doerr and new Mayor W. Brad Parton have said publicly that they favor a referendum.

However, the council members say they first need more information on how the pier issue should be presented to voters. Acquiring that information, they say, has been delayed by preoccupation in recent months with election campaigns, negotiations over the new budget and other city business.

Only Councilman Ron Cawdry has stuck firmly to the position that the council should make the decisions on rebuilding the pier. He was out of town last week, but in a May interview he said:

"People elected me to make the tough decisions, and I'm not going to shed that responsibility. . . . I want to give top priority to rebuilding the harbor and the pier."

The disastrous combination of last year's storms and the May 27, 1988, fire caused more than $25 million in damages throughout King Harbor, which includes the Redondo Pier. Plans are in the works to raise the harbor breakwater and make other improvements to protect the harbor from future onslaughts from the sea.

The council and the public will have their first chance to see how a new pier might look later this month, when three design concepts will be presented. The first proposes rebuilding only the portion that was destroyed last year. The second envisions a smaller pier, and the third suggests a bigger structure, which would include a public building, such as a museum or meeting room.

Planners also will offer three choices on the pier structure: Wood, steel or concrete. Pier-rebuilding costs range from $3.8 million to $6 million, depending on the design chosen, and new commercial structures built by private interests could run from $2 million to $2.5 million, according to city estimates.

For many involved in the pier decision, the big question is: Who will pay the bill? So far, the general assumption has been that residents will have to pay at least part of it.

Break for Local Taxpayers

But in an interview last week, City Manager Tim Casey said he now believes a new pier can be built without cost to local taxpayers.

"In my opinion, the project can be fully funded by state and federal disaster reimbursements, with possibly some involvement of redevelopment monies," he said.

For starters, Casey said, the state recently indicated that $3.2 million will be available to reimburse the city for its storm and fire losses in King Harbor. More than $2 million of that amount is earmarked by the state for pier reconstruction, he said, "and if the community opts to do nothing, we will lose that part" of the appropriation.

Basic decisions on the pier involve public policy issues that must be resolved by the council or the people, Casey said. "But I feel a do-nothing decision is not a viable option. It would be fraught with legal problems," he said.

He said pier leaseholders contend that Redondo Beach has an obligation to rebuild the pier and would almost certainly resort to litigation if the city does nothing. City Atty. Gordon Phillips has said that the city may have to fix "repairable" portions of the pier, but he contends that it has no obligation to rebuild the "irreparable" part that fell into the sea.

"Personally," Casey said, "I don't want the community to have to pay a lot of money in legal costs to find out who has the right legal opinion. I think a practical solution is to decide how to rebuild the pier, perhaps in a different and nicer way and with more attention to the concerns of residents."

Councilman Colin said he is not overly concerned about any litigation that may arise from a decision not to rebuild. "I think a do-nothing outcome is entirely possible, if that's what the people want," he said.

Backlash Concerns

Colin recalled that in the first of two hearings last year, most speakers strongly supported rebuilding the pier. "But at the second hearing, we got a big backlash," he said.

"The (council) chamber was packed with people complaining about how the pier attracted riffraff, gang activity, drugs, noise, traffic congestion" and other problems that concerned nearby residents.

Colin said he is not sure yet how those problems would be affected, if the city sticks with what's left of its 60-year-old pier, or decides to build a new upscale structure.

"We all have a lot to learn, and I'm sure there'll be a lot of discussion before we do anything," he said.

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