City Council recently reviewed plans for a new 8,300-square-foot branch library in Virginia Avenue Park adjacent to the existing Thelma Terry building. Projected cost: $12.8 million in redevelopment funds.
I commented last Monday that paying $1,542 per square foot for the project was more than 10 times the national average. I’m still asking, “Why so expensive?”
I wondered if anyone on City Council was also concerned about the library’s hefty tab. During 28 minutes of discussion, not one council person asked about cost. They were all too busy congratulating themselves on how responsive they’ve been to requests for a new branch library.
During staff’s presentation, it was disclosed that a subterranean garage included in the original $12.8 million budget was eliminated in favor of using existing Virginia Avenue Park surface parking. With no underground parking, the cost of the library should drop considerably. But, nobody has asked. What’s the revised project’s budget? Maybe those on the dais don’t care, but I do.
It may all be moot if Gov. Jerry Brown gets his way and dissolves redevelopment agencies and absorbs their monies into the deficit ridden state budget. Around $280 million in projects, including the bloated Pico library, could go unfunded until some other means of paying for them is found. Can you say, never?
No Oscar for Oscar
City Council reviewed and accepted an oral report by City Manager Rod Gould on implementing the recommendations proffered in the Office of Independent Review’s report on the Oscar de la Torre felony child endangerment investigation by the Santa Monica Police Department.
Police contend that school board member de la Torre waited too long to intervene in a fight between two 17-year-old boys behind the Pico Youth & Family Center where he is executive director, thus possibly violating the law by putting children at risk.
Police investigated and presented their findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to prosecute. de la Torre quickly responded by claiming he’d been unfairly targeted and smeared by police. Gould hired the OIR to review the police investigation and they found no wrongdoing on behalf of the SMPD. The OIR, however, was critical of the way the investigation was conducted and made suggestions about how investigations could be improved.
Gould reported that the OIR saw “no evidence to suggest ill motives behind those techniques” but employing them opened the door “for the potential appearance of bias …” and risked public confidence in the police department. He added, “The commitment to transparency and public trust in law enforcement and government in general is precious and easily lost. And, once lost, is difficult to regain.”
Unfortunately, present and former city politicians as well as the usual SMPD haters have hyperbolized that the department’s reputation has been damaged and time is needed to regain community trust — all after expressing “condolences” to de la Torre. Unbelievable!
I can’t think of a more unfortunate, damaging and divisive position to take then tarring the entire department with a “don’t trust” label.
Affordable housing slips through the bureaucratic crack
It was strange hearing Gould talk about “trust in government.”
How about the Dorchester House on Fourth Street? It’s a 1988 condominium project required by terms of its development agreement with City Hall to set aside 15 units for low- and moderate-income rental housing (My Write, March 8, 2010, Page 4, “City ignores development agreements”). In return, it received generous construction bonuses.
In January 2010, local attorney Stanley Epstein discovered that all 15 Dorchester units were sold at market rates and illegally occupied by well-heeled owners, family members or illegally rented out at market rates. None of the units seem to be or ever have been in compliance with the development agreement.
After an initial investigation, City Hall sued the related owners of three of the units. Staff reports to council and the public have repeatedly maintained that the remaining 12 units were either “in compliance” or “their owners were complying.”
Questioning that, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the City Attorney’s Office and was notified last week that all the information requested proving compliance in the 12 units was confidential because it contained personal financial statements and would not be provided.
Neither Epstein nor I believe that serious efforts to enforce the agreement have been undertaken on any of the 12 units. Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades last Wednesday said that less than half were still not in compliance.
City Hall annually spends millions of dollars on new affordable housing. It’s their number one priority. Yet, it appears that for over 20 years, city staff has completely failed — and continues to fail — to enforce contracts to maintain existing affordable housing.
It’s obvious City Hall is desperately avoiding eviction proceedings against Dorchester owners. Therefore, claims of compliance are purely a smoke screen and don’t seem to be completely truthful.
I’ll follow up on this in future columns. In the meantime, “trust in government” is taking another hit, Mr. Gould.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.