After months of delay and debate, a divided Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to build a new police communications center downtown rather than in Westchester, as originally planned, adding about $3 million to the facility’s price tag.
But lawmakers still could not agree on a site for the new center, and ordered staff to return next week with an analysis of a location that has never before been a candidate for the project.
And so, nearly five years after voters approved the bonds to fund two new 911 dispatch centers, the facilities remain sketches on paper.
“I don’t understand why we are so willing to spend additional money that we don’t have,” said Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. “My problem is that I was given this really [hard] sell [in favor of the Westchester location], and now . . . the same departments [are] giving me a different sell, and I’m feeling nervous about whether I should buy twice on the same issue.”
The confusion dates back to December 1993, when city staff lobbied the council to purchase a parcel of land in Westchester to house a new LAPD training facility, citing as a bonus the prospect of having the building double as a 911 dispatch center at a savings of more than $30 million.
But in making that argument, city officials apparently ignored a state law that requires such emergency facilities to have extra protections against earthquakes, making the training site inadequate.
“Probably the time we should have been asking the questions is when we were trying to buy Westchester,” Councilman Mike Hernandez said Wednesday
“I’m not satisfied with the answers we’ve been getting . . . at all. I’m very disappointed,” he said. “Sometimes we operate as though we have all the money in the world, when the reality is, we don’t.”
Many on the council members balked at spending the added $2.3 million to $3.2 million that it will cost to build the center in the congested Civic Center area rather than near the Westside training facility. Still, most said they agree with law enforcement experts that the emergency communications center should be near City Hall, with the opportunity to add a similar Fire Department 911 facility later. This would create what officials call a “sneaker net” in which employees can run from one site to another in the case of a telecommunications collapse.
But on Wednesday, officials for the first time proffered an alternative downtown location.
Rather than build the 911 center--which some have described as a “fortress"--on the northeast corner of 1st and Los Angeles streets, the city’s real estate chief, Dan Rosenfeld, proposed putting it on the southeast corner of Los Angeles and Temple streets. Rosenfeld and Councilwoman Laura Chick, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the Temple Street site would give the city greater flexibility in developing its downtown land. They also said it could save as much as $700,000 a year because fewer parking spaces would be lost.
Opponents said the Temple street location has security problems.
As discussion of the various sites stretched on for nearly an hour, Councilman Richard Alatorre, Police Chief Bayan Lewis and other top officials warned that additional delays could be costly. The city has a contract with TRW that called for a June 1 decision on the site.
“We can keep having this debate next week and next month and the month after that,” Alatorre said. “Meanwhile, costs continue to increase, and nothing gets done. We have got to move forward.”
Linda Bunker, who heads the project for the LAPD, said TRW’s billings could rise if decisions continue to be delayed, but she would not say by how much.
“One or two days isn’t going to make a big difference,” she said. “But it could slip, and that could cost us a lot.”
As a compromise, lawmakers voted 11 to 2 to bypass the Westchester idea and locate the facility downtown, yet delay until next Friday a final decision between the two Los Angeles Street parcels. Chick and Councilman Nate Holden dissented.