City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System 

Mayor mirrors Detroit's disastrous choice

Thursday, Sep 16 2010

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Stone says of the City Council: "They did nothing. Zero."

A look at the 2010-11 budget approved by the City Council shows that the mayor's library cuts sailed through unaltered. Nothing remotely like that occurred in New York, Chicago or Boston, where budget fights waged by concerned mayors or vibrant city councils restored substantial amounts of library funding.

But Los Angeles does not have what most people would call a "vibrant" city government. An eye-opening report by the think tank Center for Governmental Studies this year revealed that 14 council members — Reyes, Zine, LaBonge, Koretz, Cardenas, Alarcon, Parks, Perry, Wesson, Rosendahl, Smith, Garcetti, Huizar and Hahn — voted unanimously 99.993 percent of the time in nearly 1,854 votes studied in 2009. (Krekorian is too new to be part of the study.)

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY TED SOQUI - Angry librarians and library lovers protest Villaraigosa's unprecedented fiscal attack on the L.A. library system.
  • Angry librarians and library lovers protest Villaraigosa's unprecedented fiscal attack on the L.A. library system.

Now, the group Los Angeles Clean Sweep, led by former Los Angeles Daily News Editor Ron Kaye, is planning to field grassroots candidates in the March 2011 primary to take on the unanimous voting bloc that controls the City Council and takes almost all of its important cues from the mayor.

Fed-up taxpayers like Jason Reynolds of Atwater Village might be open to listening to Clean Sweep. A music-industry consultant with a house payment and a 4-year-old son, Reynolds is very unhappy about the Monday closure of the library where his boy loved the now-canceled free art classes. "I don't believe for a second they couldn't find the money," he says of the Los Angeles City Council.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Haley Hill, a freelance graphic artist, and Eric Carlson, an English-language tutor, stand outside the Edendale Branch Library on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, across from the Brite Spot diner. The Silver Lake residents are in their 20s and visit the library often. "I get all of my movies from the library," says Carlson, who lives on a tight budget. He uses the free Internet access to prepare his students' lessons since he doesn't own a computer.

When they walked to the Edendale branch, neither realized that Los Angeles' public libraries — which already started closing on Sundays last April — had shut down on Mondays for the foreseeable future. They were angry and perplexed when they came upon the locked doors.

"It's really shitty because it's something that affects so many people in the area," says Hill, who often sees lots of children in the library. "They always cut the most important things."

It's not only Angelenos who are using libraries more than ever. Library systems across the nation are seeing spikes in use. "Americans are visiting libraries in gigantic numbers," says New York Public Library President Paul LeClerc, who oversees one of the most renowned systems in the world. "The more libraries that are open, the more people will use them."

LeClerc points to a study published in March by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, "Opportunity for All," which found 169 million visits by Americans to a public library in 2009 — 77 million to get free access to the Internet. People ages 11 to 18 are the among most active Internet users at libraries, about 11.8 million of them.

Many are teenagers doing homework, the study finds. And 61 percent of young people between 14 and 24 who live below the federal poverty line are using library computers and the Internet for educational purposes. "They don't have the money to pay for that access," LeClerc says.

In February, Villaraigosa held a press conference at the Silver Lake Branch Library, telling journalists the grim news that funding for city libraries was on the chopping block. Then-KABC news reporter Michael Linder taped the mayor as saying: "We no longer have the revenues to be able to support the level of services that we provide."

He then declared, "No big city in the country has a library system compared to ours."

That's true now but not in the boastful, positive way he asserted.

Stone says members of the Library Commission — most of them political appointees of Villaraigosa's — were far too quick to go along with his cuts. "We couldn't get anybody to push back," Stone says of the five-member commission. "We tried to tell them what was happening, but they didn't listen."

In an interview with the Weekly, Library Commission President Tyree Wieder, a former president of Los Angeles Valley College, insists: "It was necessary due to [the city's] financial situation. They looked at it very, very hard.

"The City Council members and the mayor were in a very tough situation," and she even insists that Villaraigosa and the City Council in no way targeted the Los Angeles Public Library system.

"They picked on the smallest kid on the block," scoffs Neighborhood Council Valley Village member Hatfield, upon hearing Wieder's strained denial. "They're more afraid of neighborhood councils than the library union."

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