Almost certainly prompted by queries from L.A. Weekly as it gathered info for its blockbuster story “City of Airheads,” council members Tom LaBonge and Janice Hahn are asking for a delay in the bizarre fiscal shakedown in which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council forced the 73 public libraries to pay back the city's General Fund for the libraries' massive utility costs.
The libraries and parks are the only two city departments forced to pay their heating, water and electricity bills to the profitable Department of Water and Power — in essence an internal tax of tens of millions of dollars that has forced library closures.
L.A. Weekly readers, Angelenos and library supporters nationwide have expressed outrage over City Hall's unprecedented fiscal attack on the libraries, including $22 million in budget cuts that forced them to shutter their doors on Sundays and Mondays.
Suffering a huge black eye, Los Angeles has become the only significant U.S. city other than dying Detroit whose libraries are opened five days a week. Detroit made its disastrous cutbacks in the 1981 recession, a decision from which its cultural core seems never to have recovered.
But Villaraigosa and the City Council have a chance to redeem themselves, and the city's tattered reputation.
On September 7, as CityWatch columnist Jack Humphreville points out, LaBonge and Hahn pushed forth a motion that allows the cash-starved libraries and the Department of Recreation and Parks to at least delay the huge DWP utility payments dreamed up by Villaraigosa, until the economy picks up.
The motion by Hahn, one of only three council members who opposed Villaraigosa's 2010-11 budget, which contained the radical library reductions, and LaBonge, who is up for re-election next year, is intended to create a temporary financial break for the library and parks departments. To reopen on Sundays and Mondays citywide, the libraries need $10 million.
But the motion is quite likely to die on the vine.
Thirteen other council members, who almost always vote in lockstep with Villaraigosa, would have to actually find their spines.
The Hahn-LaBonge motion, which was put forth on September 7 after City Council members and the Mayor's Office got repeated phone calls from the Weekly about the crisis facing the libraries, is sitting, waiting to be studied by members of the City Council's Energy and Environment and Budget and Finance committees.
Those elected officials include Jan Perry, Tony Cardenas, Richard Alarcon, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Bernard Parks, Greig Smith, Jose Huizar, and Bill Rosendah — more than half of the 15-member City Council.
As the Weekly has previously reported, 14 council members (Krekorian is too new to have been studied) vote unanimously 99.993% of the time, in a bloc that stays in line with what Villaraigosa wants.
That's pretty sickening behavior in light of the 90,000 young people who go to public libraries every week after school. Currently, up to 15,000 youths each day are being turned away on the closed library days.
By our reckoning, by the time the Los Angeles City Council actually takes a serious look at the Hahn-LaBonge motion aimed at reopening the libraries during this fiscal year, half of Los Angeles Unified School District's academic year will already be over.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.