LAPD May Seek New Quarters
The Los Angeles Police Commission is looking into the possibility of leasing enough downtown office space to vacate Parker Center, the Police Department’s leaky, earthquake-damaged headquarters, which could then be torn down and rebuilt, Commission President Rick Caruso said Tuesday.
“Nothing could be more unsafe right now than Parker Center,” said Caruso, a real estate developer who was appointed to the commission last year by Mayor James K. Hahn. “You can walk through that building and see the sky. I can’t believe anybody has allowed it to go on this long.”
In an interview, Caruso said he had commissioned a study of available downtown office space that real estate brokers would present to the five-member Police Commission next week. He said he hopes the city can make a deal within 60 days for as much as 500,000 square feet of rental space, allowing the LAPD to empty Parker Center.
Any such deal, however, would depend on City Council approval and would raise questions about whether, and how, the city should replace Parker Center. A new police headquarters would probably cost $150 million to $200 million or more, Chief Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton said. Voters turned down a bond issue in 1999 that would have raised $744 million for a variety of public safety construction projects, including a new police headquarters.
The city’s new police chief, William J. Bratton, said the initiative to replace Parker Center came from Caruso, not from him. He agreed, however, with the need for change.
“There is a general consensus that the building is inadequate in terms of the current and future needs of the department,” Bratton said. “We are actually looking at a number of options.”
Caruso said he has raised his concerns about Parker Center with Hahn and the mayor’s chief of staff. “We’ve never gotten into specifics,” Caruso said, “but I think in concept they agree.”
Too small for a burgeoning department since the day it opened nearly 50 years ago, Parker Center has grown to become one of the city’s most emblematic buildings, nearly as much a symbol of the LAPD as the familiar motto “To Protect and to Serve.”
It is, among other things, one of the city’s most frequently filmed buildings. But in the 40 or so years since “Dragnet” put it on the map, Parker Center has changed little, except to deteriorate. Police officers complain that pipes leak, cables dangle, floors sag and walls are paper thin. Even the camera at the front desk is broken.
Caruso said the building was yellow-tagged after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a decision he finds timid and politically expedient. It should have been condemned with a red tag, he said, and is vulnerable to another quake. The city-issued yellow tags mean the structure has been damaged and may be unsafe to occupy; a red tag means it must be vacated.
“The people who are supposed to protect this city in the event of an earthquake,” Caruso said, “are in a building that’s likely to collapse.”
Furthermore, Caruso said, the Police Department keeps losing civilian employees, who quit or transfer to other city departments because they want better working conditions. Even the secretary to the Police Commission, he said, has requested a transfer to the Department of Water and Power.
The city is losing money on high employee turnover, he said, and on the inefficiency of having Police Department personnel spread among other office buildings downtown. Police operations use about 1 million square feet altogether and have as many as 30 leases in private nearby buildings.
Caruso said he was shocked when he toured Parker Center after being appointed to the Police Commission in August 2001. He is pushing for its replacement, he said, because “this is the first time I’ve been able to see a little daylight.” Between security worries after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the replacement of former Chief Bernard C. Parks, he said, “there have been other things I needed to deal with.”
Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who heads the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the city will need to replace or renovate Parker Center “in the reasonable near-term.” But it is not clear how the city would pay for a new police headquarters, she said.
Police Commissioner Rose Ochi said she would support any proposal that will provide officers with a decent place to work. “There are wholesale health and safety violations throughout the building,” she said. “Everybody who’s worked in this building knows how awful it is to be here.”
She added: “Our police officers deserve the best. We’ve been treating those in this building like second-class citizens. This is a world-class department. We need a world-class building.”
As she spoke, Ochi conducted an informal tour of the commission’s offices on the first floor of Parker Center. Employees work shoulder to shoulder. Some work in windowless rooms barely bigger than closets. Cracks are visible in office walls. The electrical system is so old in places that it can be overloaded by plugging in any major appliance.
“Do you want to see my office?” Ochi asked. She opened a wardrobe with five file drawers, each marked with the name of a civilian police commissioner.
There was a time when Parker Center was considered state-of-the-art.
The building opened to great fanfare in 1955 as the Police Administration Building. Built for the then-substantial sum of $6.1 million, it was a 400,000-square-foot showplace with a glass and stone facade that was intended to consolidate several scattered, outdated LAPD offices. A newspaper story on opening day marveled at its technological features:
“Its nerve system is a maze of pneumatic tubes,” The Times said. “These tubes are threaded into virtually every direction in the building and operators may route the capsules to any one of them by simply dialing their destination before inserting them in the tube.”
The full-time services of a policewoman were required for months to give tours to curious crowds. When Chief William H. Parker died in 1966 after leading the department for 16 years, the building was renamed in his honor.
Parker Center’s drawbacks have been discussed for years. A two-year study by Los Angeles real estate consultant Kosmont Associates completed in 1996 concluded that the building should be demolished.
“It’s very unsafe,” consultant Larry Kosmont said Tuesday. “Woefully inadequate in every way.”
Consolidation would provide cost savings and greater effectiveness, Caruso and Kosmont said, including an end to the high price of keeping Parker Center running. Maintenance and operation costs at downtown’s best modern high-rise office buildings are $10 to $15 per square foot a year, Kosmont said, while it takes as much as $20 a foot to keep Parker Center open. That doesn’t include the potential price of considerable deferred maintenance.
It would cost as much as $12 million to bring the ventilation system up to par, said Joe Gunn, executive director of the Police Commission, and another $12 million to properly repair the fire and safety systems.
“It could be costing the LAPD as much money just to maintain Parker Center as it would cost to rent elsewhere,” said Kosmont.
Brokers from Los Angeles real estate services company CB Richard Ellis are compiling a list of properties downtown or nearby that might serve as temporary home to the LAPD.
CB Richard Ellis representatives declined to reveal what buildings will be recommend to the Police Commission next week, but there are a handful with large vacancies that might appeal to the department. Among them are the three-building Transamerica Center, which has 330,000 square feet available in a 10-story tower at 1149 S. Broadway and more parking slots than most downtown buildings. Monthly rent there starts at $1.50 a square foot.
Other buildings, including Arco Plaza on Flower Street and 333 S. Hope St., have large blocks of space available but may not meet the LAPD’s parking, security and cost requirements. Real estate sources said buildings in downtown’s industrial areas and south toward USC may be more suitable.
Miscikowski and Deaton said security concerns would be paramount in selecting office space for police. However, Kosmont said, the building needn’t be a fortress, given its role as an administrative, not a law enforcement, center. “There is a case to be made that many of the specialized units like burglary, homicide and gangs do not have to operate out of the operations center,” he said.
Exactly how much office space the department requires is uncertain. Caruso said he would like to see as much as 500,000 square feet of police office space in one location, but real estate sources say it would be possible to gain many economies of scale in a 300,000-square-foot rented headquarters.
That would make the LAPD a prize tenant for landlords in the downtown office market, where a 100,000-square-foot lease is considered large, and would probably garner a substantial discount on rent.
Caruso said he hopes that the Police Commission will decide next week to recommend moving out of Parker Center and that approvals from the mayor and City Council soon follow.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Nickname: “The Glass House”
Opened: Sept. 12, 1955
Size: 8 stories, with 260,000 sq. ft. of office space
Construction cost: $6,142,548
Named: In 1967 for Police Chief William H. Parker after his death in 1966.
Problems: Extensive structural damage from the 1994 Northridge quake, plus inadequate electrical and ventilation systems.
Times staff writers Mitchell Landsberg, Richard Winton and Jill Leovy contributed to this report.