Council Returns to Retrofitted City Hall

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council moved back into what its president, Ruth Galanter, called "the real City Hall" on Thursday, marking completion of a $299-million seismic retrofitting project lasting three years.

New and old political leaders, from Mayor-elect James K. Hahn to the 97-year-old retired councilman and county Supervisor Ernest Debs, flocked to the ceremony at which the council chamber was formally named for the body's late president, John Ferraro.

Hahn, who in three days will be inaugurated as mayor, defended the cost of the work, which expanded beyond a retrofitting to a broad modernization of the 1928 building.

"Some people said we shouldn't rebuild City Hall," Hahn said. "It would be too expensive, we ought to tear it down, maybe we should just relocate to a building elsewhere in downtown.

"What a loss that would have been! Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed."

Hahn called the refurbished council chamber "a shrine to democracy," saying that he had been impressed by it even as a small child.

The outgoing mayor, Richard Riordan, who had been cool to the renovation and appointed a panel of experts who vainly sought to lower the costs to $165 million, skipped the ceremony.

Riordan's press secretary, Peter Hidalgo, said it wasn't a snub but that the mayor was appearing at the same time on his last "Ask the Mayor" talk show on KFWB (AM-980).

The centerpieces of the City Hall retrofitting are 526 seismic base isolators and 64 viscous dampers, devices that would serve as shock absorbers in a big earthquake. Also, the refurbished building has been equipped with shear walls and other buttressing.

City Hall, at 27 stories, is the tallest building ever protected with base isolators. Some earthquake engineers have questioned that, saying that the system works best in shorter, mid-size buildings.

But Stan Morimoto, the city Department of Public Works engineer who managed the project under Chief Legislative Analyst Ronald F. Deaton, has estimated that City Hall would be able to withstand an 8.1 quake occurring 40 miles away on the San Andreas fault or a 6.8 quake on the Elysian Park fault that is less than a mile away.

All 12 council members at the ceremony Thursday lauded the new chamber, although City Controller-elect Laura Chick also vowed to review the project's costs.

She said after the ceremony that though she had supported the costly retrofitting as a council member, she has the legal obligation as controller to examine whether the money was well spent.

The ceremony was festive and drew former and retired city officials, including former council members Richard Alatorre and Arthur Snyder, who left office under legal clouds.

The council, in 12-0 votes, renamed the chamber for Ferraro, authorized a bust of him to adorn the chamber and declared the building the official City Hall once again, relegating City Hall East, where it has been meeting, back to subordinate status.

Ferraro, a two-time All American football player when he played at USC in the 1940s, was a council member for 35 years. In keeping with his long identification with his alma mater, the USC fight song was played Thursday as the public first entered the renovated chamber.

Though Riordan and City Controller Rick Tuttle resisted the more expensive modernization, Ferraro was instrumental in assembling a council majority that authorized it.

Federal grants totaling $126 million and municipal seismic bonds approved by the voters financed much of the work. At the same time, other government buildings downtown, such as the County Hall of Administration and the civil courthouse at 1st and Hill streets, have obtained scant retrofitting.

All floors of City Hall will soon be back in service, although much work remains.

One improvement in evidence was the new acoustic system in the chamber, where it is now much easier to hear.

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