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
With all 73 Los Angeles libraries shuttered two days a week, targeted by the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in an unprecedented budget-slashing in 2010, a former police chief–turned–City Council budget hawk is rescuing the maid abandoned at the budget ball.
Days ago, Councilman Bernard Parks pushed through the City Council a measure that, if passed by Los Angeles voters on March 8, 2011, will permanently increase the public library system's slice of the city budget pie.
Parks tells L.A. Weekly what he learned as police chief: "No matter how good [the police are], they cannot compete with the library system — in terms of intervention [with] and education" of Los Angeles youths.
Despite the libraries' crucial role in the city's civic health, "Having worked on [numerous] budget cycles, libraries cannot win the battle of the June meeting on the budget, when [the council] is deciding whether it's police, fire or libraries," he says.
"I have watched all the rhetoric," Parks says, as L.A. City Council members praise public libraries on camera, then do nothing to replace library funding cut by Villaraigosa.
Parks' solution, which will appear on the March ballot if Villaraigosa signs the measure on Nov. 29, does not increase taxes. Instead, it raises the funding floor, using taxes already being collected from property owners. Libraries would get 0.03 percent of the assessed value of property citywide, increased from 0.0175 percent. That means bigger city departments could see small trims to offset the slight shift in funds.
Parks' plan, approved on Nov. 16, was among 10 measures OK'd by the City Council for Angelenos to consider in March, pending Villaraigosa's signature.
Villaraigosa and the City Council were the subject of national criticism following L.A. Weekly's Sept. 16, 2010, cover story, "City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System, Mirroring Detroit's Disastrous Choice."
It details how Villaraigosa shredded the library system's budget without a fight from the City Council, closing all 73 libraries two days a week and making L.A. the only significant U.S. city — except Detroit — to darken its grand Central Library two days out of seven.
Villaraigosa has forced the libraries to repay the city general fund for their overhead and utility costs of $22 million this year — yet only one other city department must pay this punishing fee.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana says restoring the libraries will leave a budget gap of $6 million. That's less than Villaraigosa pays his vast personal staff of 206 aides and deputy mayors.
Roy Stone, president of the Librarians' Guild, credits the Weekly's Patrick Range McDonald for bringing the library system's situation to light, saying, "Without the Weekly caring about the libraries, I don't want to think about where we would be." That effort, he says, is "saving the library, putting the information out there for people."
Another major issue to be placed before voters is a crackdown on the controversial Department of Water and Power, a public utility owned by all L.A. residents.
Activists and reformers credit City Councilwoman Jan Perry for not allowing the measure to be sidelined by weaker members of the City Council after DWP union leaders tried to kill it several days ago.
The measure gained steam after a debacle last spring in which Villaraigosa's political appointees on the DWP board refused to transfer $73.5 million in funds to the cash-starved city general fund — unless the City Council agreed to a stiff 28 percent electricity rate hike on city ratepayers.
The move, believed to have been orchestrated by DWP union honcho Brian D'Arcy, was decried as the utility holding the city hostage.
The dustup earned Los Angeles a national black eye.
On Nov. 16, hoping to head off the March ballot measure that would crack down on the DWP, the union played hardball again.
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers bought full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News and packed the council chambers. The IBEW is headed by D'Arcy, who controls kingmaker-sized campaign contributions to local candidates.
D'Arcy's "lobbyist was there, talking to the various council members and all their little aides," says Jack Humphreville, a DWP reform advocate and co-owner of the Recycler. He singled out Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes, Dennis Zine, Tom LaBonge, Richard Alarcon, Herb Wesson, Jose Huizar and Janice Hahn as the council members voting to oppose "meaningful reform in return for future campaign contributions" from D'Arcy's DWP union.
Activists say City Council President Garcetti buckled to D'Arcy, watering down a plan to create a DWP watchdog by stripping out a provision for an inspector general — and even leaving out specific funding for an oversight office.
Garcetti disagrees, saying he merely removed language that was not clear or which was so specific it reduced the scope of the proposed office's power.
But Garcetti got extensive bad press for the move. The next day, Garcetti and Jan Perry met with angry reformers Humphreville and Chuck Ray, and spoke to former DWP board president Nick Patsaouras, who has long called for a DWP cleanup. Garcetti agreed to include a figure for funding the oversight office — something he had refused the day before.