Council Backs Westchester for Police Academy : Law enforcement: Vote deals blow to Sylmar plans. Switching to former Hewlett-Packard site would save $50 million, officials say.
The Los Angeles City Council dealt a serious blow to plans to build a new police academy in Sylmar when it voted Friday to go after an empty electronics plant in Westchester for the training facility.
The vote, which was taken behind closed doors, gives city and police officials the authority to enter the bidding war for the 13.8-acre former Hewlett-Packard facility near the San Diego Freeway and Manchester Boulevard.
If the city’s bid is accepted, the matter will be returned to the City Council for a decision--most likely next week--on whether to buy the land and kill long-held plans to build the academy near the old Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar.
City Councilman Hal Bernson, whose district includes the Sylmar property, said he would be sad to lose the academy. But he added that he will support whatever move will most benefit the Police Department.
“It would complement any district,” he said.
Equestrians, who use the trails surrounding the Sylmar site, said they were pleased that an alternative location for the academy is being investigated.
“I think it’s great,” said Cindy Blazer, a member of an equestrian group that operates a corral near Olive View Medical Center. “Our position has always been that we have no problem with having it in Sylmar, just with that specific site because of its proximity to homes and trails.”
Proponents of the Westchester site hail it as an opportunity to save about $50 million and speed up plans to expand the Los Angeles Police Department.
“We are now very optimistic,” said Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes the Westchester land. “Now, it’s just up to the negotiators.”
The expected savings, police officials said, would be used to build a parking structure at the Van Nuys Police Station and expand the detective squad rooms at the West Valley and Harbor stations.
The Sylmar site was selected as the most suitable after a lengthy environmental review. Several public hearings were held, and modifications were made to the plans to address noise and traffic concerns raised by adjacent residents.
Earlier this month, police officials said the Sylmar site, on county land east of the medical center, was particularly well located because it would be near a planned police firearms and high-speed driving training center in Granada Hills.
However, the Westchester site includes a building formerly occupied by the Hewlett-Packard electronics firm and is big enough to house a new police communications facility on its second floor. Because previous plans called for construction of a new building for the communications center, purchasing the Westchester site would cut five years off its development, officials said.
And because the Hewlett-Packard building can be used for the academy with few modifications, its purchase would shorten by 2 1/2 years the time needed to open a new facility, police said.
By choosing the Westchester site, police officials estimate that the city can save $20 million in construction of the academy and $30 million in construction of the communications center.
The Sylmar training facility had been expected to cost about $40 million, and a separate communications center was to be built later at another location at a cost of between $30 million and $40 million.
Galanter originally requested Tuesday that the City Council vote to make a $14-million bid on the Westchester land. But her colleagues said they needed more time to study the proposal to locate the academy there. In addition to delaying a decision, the council agreed to take the issue up behind closed doors to avoid jeopardizing the city’s negotiations.
Since Tuesday, the Westchester site has been inspected by Police Chief Willie L. Williams, members of the Police Commission and city architects, Galanter said.
Gary Greenebaum, president of the city Police Commission, said the Hewlett-Packard building was built as a corporate training center and can easily be converted to a police training facility. He added that it already has a fully equipped cafeteria that seats 240 people.
“It’s an excellent site,” he said. “It may not be the first conception that we would have come up with, but it’s an adequate, maybe more than adequate, site.”
Galanter said she expects no opposition from residents in her district to plans for an academy in Westchester.
“Opposition? Are you kidding?” she said.