By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“It’s a lot of flim-flam,” Vosburgh says. “City Councils don’t say, ‘If you don’t agree to a tax increase, we won’t be able to cut the trees as often or wash down the sidewalks.’” Instead, they target something that people care much more passionately about — like library books. “These kinds of issues can be manipulated.”
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger exploited the tactic recently, threatening to close parks, Vosburgh says. Five years ago, then-Governor Gray Davis pulled the same stunt with — sound familiar? — a preposterous $5 charge for certain library books, sending newspaper editorial boards into a frenzy.
Elated when Mount Rushmore is not closed down, taxpayers more willingly fork over for things they thought they had already paid for: trash pickup, parking, golf-courses, park usage — the very areas where Villaraigosa plans to impose $90 million worth of hikes.
The mayor’s spokesman, Matt Szabo, stammered aloud when asked whether it was a Mount Rushmore strategy.
Finally, he managed, “I would question the relevance of that.” He says Villaraigosa’s only role was in asking that the proposed library fee be withdrawn.
“What we have here is a mayor posing a budget in the midst of a recession, which protects the core services of the city, which includes our public library,” Szabo says.
But Villaraigosa’s political priorities are elsewhere: big increases for police officers, fire protection and anti-gang efforts. (He also recently completed a costly two-and-a-half-year campaign to fill 800,000 potholes.)
But all the while, the library — one of the best places to keep kids out of trouble — has withered under budget cuts, and next year’s prospects are worse. The system has been unable to buy new books since February. The library has stopped renewing its subscriptions.
Those problems were just emerging when patrons became incensed by the proposed $1 book fee.
“My first reaction was just horror,” says playwright Mark Savage, 49, of Silver Lake. “Like, ‘What the fuck? Really?’ Charging a fee for the public library is just wrong. Penalties have always been a part of it, but the whole point of the public library is books free to the public.”
Savage, who always has books checked out, figures it would have cost him $10 a week. He learned of the save-the-library campaign through a Yahoo news group and immediately posted on a Yahoo site read by the small-theater crowd.
The speed at which word spread offered a glimpse into the city’s subculture of readers. Joelle Dobrow, president of the Edendale Library Friends Society in Echo Park and Silver Lake, heard of the fee when phoned by a library patron. Dobrow alerted her board, two neighborhood councils and friends. The Echo Park flurry prompted a post by blogger Jenny Burman, which further fueled Schave’s and Cooper’s determination to start their save-the-library Web site.
Cecil Castellucci, author of the young-adult novel The Queen of Cool, was e-mailed by a friendly librarian and started blogging on it. Teacher Katie Sobczak, who combs libraries for lesson plans, read about it at a coffee shop. Cindy Rosenthal of Brentwood overheard a conversation at her local branch. She e-mailed her grown daughters in San Francisco and San Diego, urging them to do something.
Word of the $1 fee’s demise spread just as quickly. Pyrrhic or not, readers were thrilled to share the triumph.
“My daughter in San Francisco e-mailed me and said, ‘Yeah, grass roots works!’” Rosenthal says.
“It’s incredible,” says Savage, the playwright. “There are so many things you feel powerless over, you don’t think things can end happily. I’d like to stop the war. I wonder if an e-mail campaign could work.”