Los Angeles police officials are prepared to recommend that the city build a police academy at the old Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar, capping the department's four-year search for a site capable of housing the facility.
If approved by city officials, the new academy would supplement the existing Police Academy, located near Dodger Stadium, as well as another facility being built near the intersection of the Golden State and San Diego freeways. The Olive View site--which housed the hospital before it was damaged in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake--would not have a high-speed driving area or a shooting range, the two aspects of police training that create the most noise and generally attract the greatest community opposition.
"This would essentially be a small junior college," said Steve Hatfield, acting commanding officer of the police facilities construction group. "It's a teaching center."
Hatfield told members of the Police Commission on Tuesday that his staff has completed its review of sites in the Los Angeles area and has settled on the Sylmar location after an exhaustive search. A variety of considerations led to that conclusion, Hatfield added, including the relatively low cost of the land and the strong political support for the location.
Although some open-space advocates and equestrians oppose development of the Olive View location, a City Council source said that body would probably support the proposal. "It's a done deal over here," the source said.
However, Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman noted that the proposal has divided opinion in the residential areas near the site, and said he has not yet made up his mind. Although the proposed academy site is in the district of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a spokesman said Antonovich does not plan to take a position because most of the opposition comes from Edelman's district to the south.
Edelman said his office has received 100 letters, the majority in opposition.
"Those opposing appear to live in patio homes to the east of the site," Edelman said. "Concerns raised by those letters is the academy could disrupt the community."
The Sylmar chapter of Equestrian Trails has formally opposed the academy plan as being inconsistent with the area's community plan, said Delmarie Carver, civic affairs chair for the group. Carver said equestrians also fear that added streets will hinder horse riders' access to mountain trails and that training exercises on the trails would pose a hazard.
"If they run on the trails, they run standard Army formation, five or six abreast and 10 deep," Carver said. "If you're on a horse and come around a curve and run into that, there's no place to go but off the mountain."
On the other hand, Sylmar resident Gwen Allen, a past national president of Equestrian Trails, said she favors the academy proposal.
"I think the thing is probably really good for Sylmar," Allen said. "Number one, the presence of a lot of police cars, whether they would be patrolling or not, can't hurt. Plus, it's a first-class facility. It's going to cost a lot of money. It should bring money into Sylmar."
Hatfield said leasing the property from the County of Los Angeles would mean a one-time cost of about $6 million in return for a 66-year lease.
A second site that had long been in the running, once the home of the Franciscan Dinnerware company, has been eliminated, Hatfield said, because of pollution problems. Officials already have spent $44 million cleaning up the site, Hatfield said. Should remaining pollution leach out, the new owner would be responsible for the cleanup.
"Because of that, the city administrative officer and the city attorney have recommended that we not acquire that site," Hatfield said.
The final environmental impact report recommending the Olive View site is being duplicated this week and will be forwarded to Police Chief Willie L. Williams next week, Hatfield said. Williams will meet with his senior staff to review it, after which he is expected to forward it to the Police Commission and City Council for consideration.
If it is approved, officials could soon begin work on designing a new academy, a process they hope to complete by December, 1995. Under that schedule, the final complex could be completed by June, 1998, Hatfield said.
Police commissioners expressed some reservations about plans for the project, however, saying they were concerned that moving too quickly might prevent the city and county from cooperating on a joint academy. That idea has been touted for years despite past opposition by the LAPD.
"That was a fine report, good to hear, but it's really not the focus of our concern," said Gary Greenebaum, president of the Police Commission. Greenebaum asked officials to confer with the Sheriff's Department--perhaps under the auspices of a formal task force--and to report as soon as possible with an analysis of the cost implications of a joint city-county facility.
"I'm worried that we could get so far along with this that, with so much money already expended, it would be hard to go back to the idea of a joint academy," Greenebaum said after the meeting. "I think it's really important not to let that happen."
Although department officials expressed reservations about a joint facility, they acknowledged that the current economic climate may make it important to reconsider the idea.
"Times have changed," said Assistant Chief Frank Piersol, director of administrative services for the LAPD. "The conditions have changed, the economy has changed."
Williams promised police commissioners that they would receive a full report on the proposed joint facility by the end of the year. And, in response to the commission's concerns, Piersol assured panel members that that would leave them ample time to make changes if they favored building a joint facility rather than proceeding with an additional LAPD academy.