By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Barrere has sharp words for Villaraigosa, remembering how he grinned for the cameras at openings of new city libraries — all of them funded by L.A. voters long before he took office: "The mayor should know better!"
Library officials estimate that so far, thousands of low-income, mostly minority young people who rely on city libraries have been shut out. Now, with most LAUSD schools starting class this week, teachers are assigning homework to hundreds of thousands of students, many of whom don't have the necessary Internet access. The problems will become acute.
Perhaps worse than that, Villaraigosa, Garcetti, LaBonge and other council members insist they'd already cut all the fat from the city budget and had no choice. In that claim, they aren't being straight.
In truth, the City Council barely quibbled over $18.5 million it handed to Villaraigosa this year for his richly endowed and experimental GRYD, the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. (It gets millions more in grants and private money.) And in 2010, Villaraigosa will spend $7.7 million on his personal staff salaries, nearly enough to reopen all 73 city libraries on Mondays.
GRYD is a still-unproven new program beset by troubles and secrecy. According to a recent audit by City Controller Wendy Greuel, nobody knows if GRYD is working. One of the key problems is that Villaraigosa's team has failed to create a way to accurately judge whether GRYD keeps anyone out of gangs. A two-month investigation by journalist Matthew Fleischer at the L.A. Justice Report found that "the mayor and the City Council's confidence in GRYD's central programs isn't grounded in quantifiable facts."
Moreover, there's no evidence that the Summer Night Lights program, which keeps dangerous parks lit late at night to encourage recreation — and which is touted by the mayor as a GRYD gang-prevention program — is really reducing gang membership or crime.
GRYD's $18.5 million publicly funded price-tag is sky-high.
Last year, according to the Mayor's Office, 2,702 at-risk 10- to 15-year-olds were enrolled in GRYD prevention services, which spends about $12 million in public funds annually, and 825 older youths were enrolled in GRYD intervention services, which spends about $6 million in taxpayer money yearly.
By the Weekly's calculations, Los Angeles taxpayers are shelling out $5,245 for each at-risk youth enrolled in GRYD. Reopening the 64 branch libraries on Mondays and the nine big libraries on Sundays and Mondays would cost just $10 million, according to Peter Persic, the library system's public relations and marketing director. With Los Angeles libraries serving up to 15,000 children daily, that works out to a cost to taxpayers of just $6.40** per child annually — probably to greater effect.
But GRYD wasn't the only noncrucial service showered with riches this year — even as the City Council and Villaraigosa claimed every ounce of excess had been cut and libraries had to be shuttered.
Villaraigosa has expanded his personal staff to a record 206 people, including 12 "deputy mayors." By comparison, Mayor James Hahn employed 121 staffers, and Richard Riordan had 114. Villaraigosa's excesses have spilled over to Reyes, Krekorian, Zine, LaBonge, Koretz, Cardenas, Alarcon, Parks, Perry, Wesson, Rosendahl, Smith, Garcetti, Huizar and Hahn. This year, the 15 council members will spend $19.6 million on personal staffs totaling about 285 people. The 491 personal staff for Villaraigosa and the council is more than the 469 employees on the White House Office staff.
L.A.'s parents and librarians seem to understand something that Villaraigosa and the City Council don't grasp: Public libraries have long been the best magnets for pulling in at-risk children.
Sherice Norris, a teacher and member of the Watts Neighborhood Council, lives with her husband and five children not far from the Watts Branch Library. Her kids all have library cards. Many in Watts still don't own computers, so children and parents use the library for Internet access. "That Monday is real crucial because you have [school] assignments from that day that need to be done," Norris says. "In the lower-income areas with high crime, libraries are a safe haven for kids. ... It's going to hit the community hard."
This is almost certainly not what Angelenos wanted from municipal belt-tightening. In 1998, 17 years after Detroit closed its libraries two days a week, L.A. voters overwhelmingly approved a $178.3 million bond measure that has helped build one of the largest and most modern public library systems in the U.S.
Now, critics say, Villaraigosa and the City Council have turned their backs on that progress.
Riordan, who was mayor in 1998, and for whom the towering downtown landmark Richard J. Riordan Central Library is named, sees the closures as a moral issue. "Every child has a God-given right to compete in this society," he says, "and to use tools to help them." With free computers, Internet access and librarian-sponsored homework assistance, Los Angeles libraries, in Riordan's eyes, are among society's essential tools.
Echoing Riordan, Librarians' Guild President Roy Stone can barely contain his disgust at what has unfolded this summer, and what is expected to unfold for years to come: bleak, dark libraries in each of L.A.'s communities every Sunday and Monday. "Villaraigosa's lack of leadership has been a disaster for the city," Stone says. "These cuts are going to take generations to recover from."
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