The cost of building a new police training facility now under construction in Granada Hills has soared from $7 million to nearly $30 million, prompting criticism from Los Angeles city officials who say the additional money should have been spent to improve police stations citywide.
An angry Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg on Wednesday blamed the higher costs on new improvements that she said have been quietly added since voters approved a 1989 bond measure to fund a list of police facility improvements, including the training center.
But she also blamed herself and the entire council, saying the panel should have questioned the cost increases proposed by the Los Angeles Police Department over the past eight years.
"I take full responsibility for not asking the right questions, but that won't happen again," she said.
Councilwoman Laura Chick was also angry about the cost increases, saying, "There was never a discussion of a Taj Mahal being built out there."
Goldberg and Chick's comments were prompted by a council vote Wednesday to direct city staff to study the status of police station improvements for female officers.
Chick and Goldberg suggested that the additional money that is being spent on the training center could have gone to build new locker rooms for female officers, some of whom must change into their uniforms in makeshift closets or hallways.
"The point of all of this is that I think our priorities need to be examined," Goldberg said.
In 1989, city officials urged voters to approve a $176-million bond measure to pay for a long list of improvements to police buildings, including $7 million for a 43-acre vehicle training center at the base of the Van Norman Bypass Reservoir, where police could practice high-speed pursuits on a paved course. The facility was to use temporary buildings to house instructors.
Since then, the project has been upgraded to include three shooting ranges, permanent buildings and classrooms and a mock city scene where police can practice tactical emergencies, such as bank robberies and hostage crises. Some of the increases are also due to environmental studies and other unexpected expenses.
The two top police officials who oversee construction of police facilities were unavailable for comment Wednesday, but other officials defended the project.
LAPD Lt. Winthrop Taylor of the Fiscal Support Bureau said officers now must drive to a training course in Pomona to practice emergency driving techniques.
The new Granada Hills facility will also cut down on travel time for officers in the San Fernando Valley who now have to drive to the Police Academy at Elysian Park to practice for regular firearms proficiency tests, he said.
Taylor said some of the additional money spent on the Granada Hills center was approved before Mayor Richard Riordan launched his campaign to dramatically expand the number of officers on the streets, thus requiring funding to improve the stations.
"At the times the decisions were made, we were addressing very pressing problems and needs, and the problem of overcrowding [at the stations] were not known or pressing at the time," he said.
Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents Granada Hills, also defended the project, saying Chick and Goldberg have exaggerated the improvements to the site.
"It doesn't look like a Taj Mahal," he said. "It looks like some frames for a building."
The cost of the center began rising before construction even started in 1996. Police recommended in 1991 increasing the cost of the center by $3.7 million to include a firearms training center, with three shooting ranges.
The shooting ranges were moved to the Granada Hills facility after city officials found that the ranges would not fit at the new recruit training center that the city purchased in Westchester in 1993.
The cost of the Granada Hills center also increased when officials decided to replace the temporary structures with permanent buildings and to add more track for the vehicle training course.
The shooting ranges and the other improvements bumped the cost of the project from $7 million to $22 million.
In 1995, the Police Department recommended other improvements, such as a "situation simulation village" where police will be able to practice responding to various emergency scenarios. Police will be able to engage in gun battles, using weapons that shoot paint balls. The village will include a mock restaurant, store, motel, bank and single-family home.
The simulation village and additional environmental studies, architectural fees, soil work and modular furniture increased the total cost to $28.9 million.
All the increases were approved by the council as part of the annual fiscal budgets.
"All of those things added up," said LAPD Sgt. Bill Dolan, who is overseeing construction of the center, which is expected to be completed by April.
To pay for the higher costs of the facility, Goldberg said that city officials had to divert bond funding that was going to be used to improve several police stations, including the Rampart Station in her Hollywood district.
"I'm not saying we don't need an [Emergency Vehicle Operations Center]," she said. "I'm saying we don't need a $30-million EVOC."
The cost increase is only the latest controversy to plague the center. Last year, the City Council clashed with the Department of Water and Power over the use of the land for the facility, which is owned by the DWP.
The DWP--a semiautonomous agency headed by an appointed panel--had suggested that the city pay $5 million for the 43-acre site. But the council insisted that the DWP stick to a previous commitment to lease the land to the city for $1 per year. After weeks of debate, the council voted to force the DWP to accept the $1-per-year offer.