Clarification: In positioning Deputy City Manager Tom Modica’s quote after 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske’s memo excerpt, the Signal Tribune did not intend to imply that Modica’s quote was in response to Schipske’s quote.
Amid concerns from residents and mayoral candidates of a rushed process, the Long Beach City Council is scheduled to vote next week on whether to delay issuing a request for proposals (RFP) to select a preferred proposer for rebuilding the Civic Center downtown until newly elected city officials take office this year.
The Council voted 8-1 last December to enter into a nearly $1-million contract with Arup North America Limited for financial, architectural and community-outreach services in preparing an RFP for the Civic Center project.
The project is expected to be the largest public-facility improvement outside of the Port of Long Beach and includes revitalizing Lincoln Park and building a new Main Library and City Hall that were both constructed in 1977.
Mayoral candidate and 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, who cast the lone dissenting vote and has called the project a “farce” and a “boondoggle,” however, has brought an agenda item forward for the Feb. 11 Council meeting to suspend the contract until after a new mayor and new city councilmembers assume office on July 15.
City staff has provided a timeline of upcoming dates for the project, indicating that the City is planning to issue a draft RFP by Feb. 28 and the Council would select a preferred proposer, consisting of a team of private developers, by July 1, just days before newly elected city officials are to take office.
“Because the mayor and majority of the current City Council will not be in office when the selection of a preferred proposer is completed, the process needs to be suspended to allow the newly elected officials to review and to decide whether or not they want to go forward on a new Civic Center or alternatively to retrofit and repurpose the current buildings,” states a memo by Schipske.
Deputy City Manager Tom Modica said in a recent phone interview with the Signal Tribune that, despite Schipske’s request, the Council already voted in October last year to move forward with three qualified respondents being considered to rebuild the complex.
“The Council voted on this and, basically, directed us to move forward,” said Modica, who added that the public would be able to discuss the project in depth during the 12 to 18 months after the Council selects a proposer.
City officials have stated that rebuilding the Civic Center through a public-private partnership would cost no more than the City’s current maintenance costs, which are $12.6 million, while retrofitting the City Hall building and Main Library would require the City to tap into its General Fund.
The City conducted two seismic surveys, one in 2005 and another one in 2006, indicating that both the City Hall building and the Main Library are “significantly seismically deficient” and are public-safety risks in an earthquake. City officials have also stated that City Hall is insufficient in size for city employees and is “functionally obsolete and energy inefficient.”
In addition, city officials state that the 2006 report also indicated that costs to retrofit City Hall would be $194 million (in current dollars) while entering into a public-private partnership to rebuild the entire Civic Center would ensure that there would be “no additional costs to taxpayers.”
Still, historic-building preservationists, residents and mayoral candidates have stated that the City hasn’t thoroughly analyzed the costs of retrofitting the buildings.
During a public-information meeting at the Long Beach Gas & Oil Department’s administration building on Saturday, Feb. 1, mayoral candidates and some past city officials expressed concerns about the project being rushed through without enough public input or analysis.
“Slow down the train,” said former 8th District Councilmember Rae Gabelich, who added that the meeting’s attendance of about 50 people was inadequate. Longtime residents, in addition to former deputy city attorney Jim McCabe and mayoral candidates Bonnie Lowenthal and Doug Otto, expressed other concerns about the project during the meeting, including the fact that the library would be downsized.
Mike Conway, director of business and property development for Long Beach, said the plan is to have a developer “activate the Civic Center” and the City would sell an unspecified portion of the city property, including a parcel at 3rd Street and Cedar Avenue, for private development, such as for housing or a hotel.
Still, he said a developer wouldn’t be able to “develop as they see fit,” since the buyer would have to go through the City’s normal entitlement process.
Some residents questioned whether the new Civic Center would include a new museum or cultural asset. Conway said such an institutional use would be up to the preferred proposer to determine whether it would generate income or be “mutually supportable.”