By Aaron Blevins, 12/27/2012
City will have to re-evaluate how to move forward
The city of West Hollywood will not be able to use redevelopment funding to renovate Plummer Park, as the city’s attempt to allocate the money for the park project has been denied by the California Department of Finance.
West Hollywood officials had planned to use $40 million of the redevelopment financing on Plummer Park; however, when the state’s redevelopment agencies were dissolved in January, the announcement left the project in limbo.
“The plan for the park as conceived is dead, because we don’t have the funding for it,” Mayor Jeff Prang said. “At this point, we have to go back to square one, and we have to look at what type of funds would be available. It’ll probably be a lot less, which means we’re going to have to scale the project to something that’s more affordable.”
He said that after the January announcement, state officials set up a process for cities to seek redevelopment funding for projects that had already been proposed. The city had hoped that the project would qualify under the redevelopment terms.
“They determined that this one, because of where we were in the process, did not,” Prang said. “It means that we need to rethink it.”
The original plan called for the expansion and renovation of Fiesta Hall, relocation of the basketball courts, a subterranean parking area, new playground equipment, a central park promenade and an interactive water feature, among other things.
The park project had been slated for construction at the beginning of the year, but a group of opponents voiced concerns regarding the length of time the park would be shut down, the uprooting of many old trees and architecture that would not fit in with surrounding structures.
The West Hollywood City Council opted to reexamine the proposal in December, creating a subcommittee to alleviate the public’s concerns. New recommendations were anticipated at the end of February, but officials put the project on hiatus while the state determined whether redevelopment financing could be used.
Prang said the project needed to be rethought anyway. He said he had issues with some of the work proposed for Fiesta Hall and with the subterranean parking structure, which would have been constructed underneath the park.
“There were elements of the park [plan] that I wasn’t thrilled with,” Prang added.
The mayor said he wasn’t sure what other funding options the city may have, but city manager Paul Arevalo said the city will continue pursuing the bonds. He said legislators are looking at different ways to tap into the funding, which totals $1.5 billion statewide, and the entities that bought the debt may challenge the decision in court.
“It’s going to take a long time for this to sort out,” Arevalo said. “Any major improvements to the park are on hold. They were anyway. I think there was a need to go back and revisit the plan.”
In the interim, Arevalo said he plans to request some money from the city’s general fund to do some needed maintenance at Plummer Park. The city had money is its budget for general maintenance at the park, but officials are looking to go beyond that, he said.
“We’re doing that analysis now,” he added.
Cathy Blaivas, a member of Protect Plummer Park, was pleased with the announcement, saying that opponents of the project were always in favor of minor upgrades to the park.
“We never had an objection to improvements,” she said. “The park really does need some tender loving care.”
However, she is “cautiously optimistic” that the project, as proposed, will not come to fruition. Blaivas referenced the eight-year battle that West Hollywood resident and preservation advocate Allegra Allison fought with the city of West Hollywood over Laurel Park.
“That’s why were not breaking open the bottles of champagne,” she added.
Protect Plummer Park is still frustrated with the city’s lack of “meaningful” conversation with opponents about the status of the park project, Blaivas said. But they are pleased that the park is safe for now.
“I’m happy, quite frankly, that the state did not come through with redevelopment money, because it’s an awful lot of money to spend on a park that’s not broken,” Blavais said.