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Council Shapes Ballot Measure for Libraries, Zoo and Park Bond

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to move forward with a ballot measure asking voters for $272.4 million in bonds intended to pay for improvements at the city’s libraries, zoo and Exposition Park.

The bonds, which would be placed on the November ballot, have yet to receive the support of the mayor, however, and some council members have expressed reservations about the lack of scrutiny given to the zoo and Exposition Park bond proposals. Both of those proposals surfaced over the last few days as a council committee dealt with the ballot issues.

Supporters argue that the three bonds--for the zoo, park and libraries--could be collectively sold to the public as a package geared for improving the lives of children.

Although the council cleared the way for the bond measure to move forward, it dealt a surprising setback to Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, who was trying to get a ballot initiative to exempt nearly a dozen police positions from Civil Service rules.

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That proposal came under scrutiny from lawmakers concerned about making those changes after voters previously have agreed to exempt 150 citywide positions. It also came under attack from several unions, concerned about having top LAPD officials handpicked by the chief--and possibly drawn from outside the department.

But Parks said he needed the charter changes to allow him maximum freedom in hiring and promoting, particularly with deputy chiefs. He also sought to exempt police psychologists and a chief public information officer from the civil service requirements.

“There’s only one person responsible for the Los Angeles Police Department and yet there are all these people conjecturing about it,” said Parks, clearly displeased by the council’s eight votes against his proposal; only four lawmakers supported it. “When it gets down to the services of the Los Angeles Police Department, none of these people are going to take responsibility. That’s what’s unfortunate.”

Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, among others, criticized Parks’ desire to go directly to voters to add more exempt positions rather than working within the already approved system.

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“This is not a problem. There’s no need to fix it,” said Goldberg, who had referred to the chief’s efforts as “a backdoor way” to get these positions.

As they worked out details of what voters might consider in November, lawmakers also agreed to ask for authority to make some pension system changes, primarily for the Fire Department. If voters approve that request, the council could offer domestic partner pension benefits to survivors of firefighters, among other things.

The bonds, including $178.3 million for libraries, $47.6 million for the zoo and $46.5 million for Exposition Park, would cost the average homeowner about $10.79 a year.

“We have got to stop this business as usual approach,” said Councilwoman Laura Chick, who voted against the zoo and Exposition Park bonds. “When we go to the public, we are asking them to make decisions and set priorities for their dollars.”

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Mayor Richard Riordan, who has said he would support the library bond, stressed that he wants the city to set priorities first for the city’s bond needs.

“We have to step back and set our priorities and also take into account what the taxpayers are most likely to spend,” Riordan said. “We have to take care of our infrastructure over the next century.”

Councilman Joel Wachs supported the bonds but succeeded in getting his colleagues to require that the Exposition Park bonds not be used for parking for professional sports at the Coliseum. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes Exposition Park, is seeking to bring an NFL football team to the Coliseum, but he agreed to Wachs’ proposal.

Under the Exposition Park proposal, $30 million would be used for an Environmental Science Learning Center at the California Science Center, $12 million to overhaul the regional recreation center there, including the Olympic Swim Stadium, and $2.5 million to repair the exterior walls at the historic rose garden.

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Jeffrey N. Rudolph, the executive director of the new science museum, said that he was pleased by the council’s support for the Exposition Park master plan improvements and that he believes that the public also supports the museum and the area.

“I think anything’s a hard sell to voters . . . but I think we have a good base of credibility,” he said.

Other bond proposals for the police and fire departments still are under review, but will not make the November ballot. Another proposal for $699 million for sidewalk repairs still could be placed on that ballot.

But some council members cautioned that voters may be less likely to approve large bonds. It takes a two-thirds majority to approve the bonds.

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Goldberg said: “I think the days of passing $600 million to $800 million bonds . . . are over.”


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