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By 3-2 Vote, City Council Panel Blesses the Beasts and the Children

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Acting on a much scaled-down bond package, a Los Angeles City Council panel narrowly agreed Monday to seek full council approval for a $223.8-million November ballot measure to fund library and zoo improvements.

That proposal, down a whopping $2 billion from an earlier bond package, no longer includes funding for the police and fire departments or for sidewalk repairs.

Instead, the proposal that squeaked out of the committee meeting on a 3-2 vote, with council members Laura Chick and Mike Feuer dissenting, calls only for library and zoo bonds, two politically enticing proposals that would be targeted at children and thus might overcome voter reluctance to approve tax increases. The panel is expected to review the others this afternoon, but it appears unlikely that they will make the November ballot.

The Police Department has sought a $638-million bond to build new stations, improve existing ones and to replace the aging and crowded Parker Center headquarters. The Fire Department has asked for $636 million for a new fire station in San Pedro and to replace 35 stations, among other things. The highest amount proposed, $699 million, would be spent to rebuild the city’s sidewalks.

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The library proposal, which seeks $178.3 million from voters, has been in the works for nearly two years and has wide community--and political--support.

The $45.5-million zoo proposal, however, was brought forward late last week and has not been reviewed by any council committees. The zoo is seeking to expand the forest for hippopotamuses and elephants, reconstruct the insect and reptile house and relocate the otters and seals.

But because Chick and Feuer worried that the zoo proposal hadn’t received adequate oversight--either by them or anyone else--they said they could not support linking it with the library proposal.

“It puts the most scrutinized item with the least scrutinized item,” Feuer said. “It’s premature to put the library with the zoo.”

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Mayor Richard Riordan, whose support is considered crucial to the measure’s success and who told council members last week that he would support only a library bond proposal on the November ballot, has not decided on the zoo request.

“There’s no question the mayor is a fan of the animals, but he’s also a fan of fiscally prudent financial planning here at City Hall,” said Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan’s spokeswoman, adding that the mayor’s budget team is reviewing the zoo proposal.

Carol Schatz, president of the Central Cities Assn., who spoke before the panel Monday, said her organization had not seen the zoo proposal. She added that she was concerned that the panel’s process be “open and thorough” so the needs of the departments could be clearly understood.

But council members and other city officials said the library and zoo proposals would be well-received by the voters because they could be framed together as a bond for Los Angeles’ children.

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Further, city officials said there could be a large turnout of Democrats--who are considered more likely to approve bond measures--in the November election because it is also the gubernatorial election. Bond measures take a two-thirds majority to pass.

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Council members Richard Alatorre and John Ferraro, who supported both the library and zoo bond proposals along with Mark Ridley-Thomas, said the measures would go a long way toward continuing to improve the Los Angeles Zoo.

“To me, it’s about the children,” Alatorre said. “The library and the zoo, they’re both about helping children and families.”

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Several council members and city officials expressed concern that the other bond measure proposals are seeking too much, too soon from voters. With just four months until the November election, those critics believed that the city didn’t have enough time to adequately scrutinize the proposals or to launch a public relations campaign for them.

In addition, some city officials expressed concern that council members might make last-minute attempts to push for bonds for their pet projects. Several sources said that Ridley-Thomas was discussing the Exposition Park complex, and they pointed to Ferraro--whose district includes the zoo--with the last-minute zoo proposal.

“They’re trying, all right,” said one City Hall source. “It will be interesting to see what we end up with.”


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