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Feature Stories

City Moves Forward in Civic Center Project

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 4
2/21/2014


By Bill Owen

City council members voted 9-0 in favor of moving forward with plans to reconstruct the Civic Center and main library in a city council meeting on Feb. 11.

An initial seismic test of the Civic Center in 2005 revealed the building to not be of adequate stability in the event of an earthquake, and city officials are pushing for action.

Many residents believe the 37- year-old building would have no trouble surviving an earthquake and see no need to move forward. This does not appear to be slowing down plans, however.

The issue of a whether a private-public partnership (P3) should be utilized in the process was a hot topic.

On Dec. 3, 2013 the city council voted 8-1 in favor of approving a million-dollar contract with a private consulting firm to provide “services related to the preparation and issuance of a Request for Proposals for a new Civic Center and main library.”

Assistant City Manager Suzanne Frick feels a P3 would keep costs at a minimum for taxpayers, and that the city is only “testing the waters” at this point in order to see if a P3 is possible.

However, a resident of Pacific Avenue favored municipal bond financing over a P3.

“Municipal bonds right now are at historic lows, and I would cite the success of funding the airport improvements as a prime example of that … with bonds being as cheap as they are right now, I see no reason not to use conventional municipal bond financing,” he said.

There is still some debate whether the buildings should be remodeled or retrofitted. 4th District Councilman Patrick O’Donnell and 8th District Councilman Al Austin wanted to be sure the retrofitting option had been explored extensively. Frick explained how a retrofitting would cost more in the long run.

“The retrofitting option requires us to go to the voters for a bond measure because there is no funding for a retrofit, whether it is $100 million, $200 million or $250 million…we don’t have that funding,” Frick said.

5th District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske has been outspoken in her opposition to the plan, but changed her vote at the meeting.

Discussion of public involvement consumed much of the meeting, as the city council debated how to keep residents involved. Outreach meetings were the most popular idea and will take place throughout the process.

Despite all council members agreeing on a possible solution, members of the public generally opposed the plan and suggested a variety of options ranging from doing nothing to using existing buildings.

Former 8th District City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, like many others, believes the council has not been transparent throughout the process.

“‘…Seismic catastrophe, obsolete, inefficient, too small, deferred maintenance,’ yet few details to questions asked could be provided. This is not civic engagement,” Gabelich said while quoting a description of the state of the Civic Center.

A retired Deputy City Attorney suggested the process might not be legal in the first place and the estimated costs are simply “guesses in the wind.”

“We’re going to be moving forward without knowing whether we can ever do this project at all,” he said. “What is known is that no North American project has ever shown P3 to work in the long run.”

Another resident was displeased with how the council has weighed different options thus far.

“On Dec. 3, [the council] opted deliberately for a decision procedure that said, ‘We do not want to look at alternatives, we have a defined problem and we insist on grabbing just the first alternative put on the plate, and to reject and blind ourselves to any information on anything else,’” he said.

A resident of the 8th District suggested involving an existing building or area of land like part of the airport instead.

“This is some of the most valuable commercial land in the city. You’re sitting on 12-15 acres of land and you’re going to build another public entity building that isn’t going to pay any taxes?” he asked.

For more information, visit www.lbciviccenter.com.

bill@longbeachcomber.com