By Aaron Blevins, 1/02/2014
City issues request for proposals for demolition work
Contractors bidding to demolish Great Hall/Long Hall in West Hollywood were met by Protect Plummer Park protestors during a mandatory pre-bid meeting and site walk at 8 a.m. on Monday.
As a large group of contractors and two sheriff’s deputies followed a city staff member to the east side of the structure, demonstrators holding signs and megaphones chanted, “Save the halls from the wrecking balls.”
The demonstration stemmed from a West Hollywood City Council decision made on Dec. 2, when the council voted to demolish Great Hall/Long Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Councilman John D’Amico had proposed repairing, re-opening and re-programming the Plummer Park structure, but Councilman John Duran redirected the discussion toward the demolition of the building. Duran’s motion to analyze the costs of razing the structure passed 3-2.
“We’ve been asking and asking and asking for a town hall meeting or a single-item agenda meeting and what we got was, ‘We’re tearing the buildings down immediately,’” said Cathy Blaivas, of Protect Plummer Park.
The city has been looking to renovate the park for approximately 20 years, and was moving close to completing the design of Phase 1 of the renovations in October 2011, when community members denounced the work for several reasons, such as the removal of “old-growth trees” and the length of time the park would be out of commission.
At the end of 2011, city representatives opted to put the plan on hold while forming a subcommittee to work more closely with the community on the park plan. West Hollywood had planned to use redevelopment funds for the project, but the dissolution of the state’s redevelopment agencies ended that plan, despite the fact that the city’s agency had already issued the bonds.
The project had remained on hold until earlier this month, when Duran moved to have the city manager report on the feasibility of having Great Hall/Long Hall torn down, which was a part of the earlier park proposal, to create green space. His motion also directed the city to move forward with the construction of a permanent Tiny Tots preschool location and the renovation of the interior of Fiesta Hall.
“It really is about unobstructed, open green space, rather than just the footprint of the building,” Duran said in a previous interview. He stressed that the community has specifically requested more parkland. “Those are the sort of uses we want to encourage at Plummer Park, rather than just meeting space.”
Blaivas is in favor of open space, just not at the expense of the Works Progress Administration building. She said Protect Plummer Park is also in favor of a new preschool, just not one with a playground on its roof.
“There are other ways to achieve open space,” Blaivas said, adding that some council members want to raze Great Hall/Long Hall “come hell or high water.”
Duran said the city has waited 20 years, which is “long enough.” Community members had similar reservations about construction at West Hollywood Park, which has been lauded by residents, he said.
“I think when we get finished with Plummer Park, people will have the same response,” Duran said.
Protect Plummer Park representatives have stated that they are not against construction at the park, but they do now want to alter the park’s unique charm, character and European feel. They felt that the project proposal would have removed those qualities.
“It shouldn’t be anything like our urban park. It shouldn’t be. It’s … apples and oranges,” Blaivas said, adding that some community events have been moved from Plummer Park to West Hollywood Park. “They have a vision, which they keep saying is the community’s vision, and they haven’t asked the community. They haven’t asked the community in a meaningful way.”
She said city representatives frequently tell opponents that the city conducted 90 meetings about the park plan. However, many of the meeting documents — if not all — report that they were “sparsely attended,” Blaivas said.
“That was then, this is now. At least have the courtesy to listen to us. At least have the courtesy to do what you promised us: a single-item council meeting or a town hall [meeting],” she said.
Blaivas said the council could have appeased the community by repairing and reprogramming Great Hall/Long Hall before determining its fate.
“To me, that’s personal,” she said. “Why not throw us a bone?”
Duran said he just felt that the city needed to move forward. During the Dec. 16 council meeting, members of the community spoke both in favor and in opposition of the demolition plans, but the council did not make a final decision.
According to a city representative, the council had yet to provide direction as to the future of Great Hall/Long Hall. The representative said the city is obtaining bids for any work to be done at the park once the council makes a decision, but no decisions have been made as of yet.
Following the Dec. 2 council meeting, D’Amico said the council may have started a “long and painful process” by moving to demolish the historic building. That could be true, as Blaivas said Protect Plummer Park is currently analyzing its legal options.
On a related note, Asssemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) is looking to release the hold on redevelopment funding for municipalities that had already legally issued bonds for local projects, such as West Hollywood and Santa Monica.
According to his district report, he introduced AB 981 in February, but the initial discussions with the state’s Department of Finance and the governor’s office proved discouraging.
However, on Nov. 11 and 12, Bloom and his staff met with staff members from West Hollywood and Santa Monica, as well as the department of finance and governor’s office, to establish a number of next steps and commitments for follow-up meetings as the entities try to author legislation to fix the issues.