While Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the L.A. City Council continue to deal with lingering budget deficits, there's one bright spot amid the darkness -- L.A. public libraries are now open longer.
Starting today, the added hours at the city's 73 libraries is the second phase of returning the public library system to its former glory. The turnaround came after L.A. Weekly exposed severe budget cuts to the libraries. Public library officials and the librarians' union credit that article for the creation and passage of Measure L, which infused the library system with more cash.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed a new head librarian for the city's public library system today: John Szabo, who has run the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System since 2005.
Librarian union president Roy Stone doesn't know much about Szabo, but he's sorry to see L.A. City Librarian Martin Gomez leave for a job with USC. "[Gomez] did a lot of good," Stone says, "and he wanted to do things, but he wasn't around long enough."
Gomez, in fact, was widely respected across the country as an innovative and top-notch leader. So what will Szabo bring to the table?
Can L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just admit the pending Westside Subway extension, formerly known as the "Subway to the Sea" (or, even more optimistically, "the most utilized subway in the nation, maybe the world"), is permanently on hold?
Every time he visits Washington, which is likely more than he visits South L.A., Mayor V makes this warm fuzzy speech about our city's cutting-edge public transportation plans --
Libraries are so in right now.
This, thanks mostly to the fact that, last election, voters finally woke up and saw the wreckage: L.A. City Councilmembers had been hacking the public library system to bits, a non-solution to the hole of debt they'd dug themselves into.
But Measure L changed all that...
And now the accidental, over-the-shoulder viewing of internet porn at public libraries is a matter of serious inquiry among city officials.
Yes, this was actually a major topic of discussion at the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee meeting this week.
And what was done about it?
L.A. voters strongly approved Measure L today, early returns showed. The city ballot initiative increases dedicated spending for the Los Angeles Public Library system by $50 million over the next few years without raising taxes.
Lucy McCoy, chairwoman of Yes on Measure L, said: "Tonight was a vote for keeping our kids safe after school, for helping job seekers get back to work, for seniors looking for a warm place to read and for all the Library goers young and old. Angelenos have sent a clear message that our libraries are a critical part of the fabric of our community."
Last year, the L.A. Weekly feature story "City of Airheads" exposed deep, City Hall-approved budget cuts to L.A. public libraries.
In response, outraged residents began demanding that L.A. City Council members restore funding. L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks then authored Measure L.
Sheryn Morris has been a librarian for 32 years. Eighteen of them at the Los Angeles Public Library system. She currently works at the reference desk at the literature and fiction section of the Richard J. Riordan Central Library in downtown.
"We really love our jobs," says Morris, referring to herself and other librarians, "and we're here to help people. And there's a lot more work to do to help the community."
At L.A. City Hall, a new mantra is emerging: When in doubt, plead ignorant.
That's how City Council President Eric Garcetti chose to handle a February 18 KPCC radio question about his role in cutting the Los Angeles Public Library system down to a gimpy non-resource last May.
Reporter Frank Stoltze asks Garcetti how he can support Measure L (the library-saving item on the March 8 municipal ballot) when he previously voted for cuts that drastically reduced library hours and personnel. Garcetti's lazy response:
The Benjamin Franklin Branch Library in Boyle Heights serves 16 local elementary schools -- from public to private -- but young students can't go to the busy library after school on Mondays due to deep budget cuts to the Los Angeles Public Library system.
"We no longer have Monday hours," says Benjamin Franklin Branch manager Alicia Moguel, "so students and other people who rely on our services can't use them."
Aside from the dying city of Detroit, Los Angeles is the only significant U.S. municipality to close down its entire library system two days a week.
At the Mar Vista Branch Library on the west side, senior librarian Carole M. Kealoha says patrons are not happy about the steep budget cuts to the Los Angeles Public Library, where they rely on its services and resources.
"Not everyone has a computer at home," says Kealoha. "They can't afford it. So they come to the library."
But with libraries closed two days a week -- Sunday and Monday -- and reduced operating hours on other days, patrons' access to computers and other things has become uncomfortably limited. Take, for example, the case of a young student who recently visited the Mar Vista Branch.