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:
“It kind of went under the radar.”
Not only is he admitting to not having properly researched a monstrous change to the city budget before voting on it — arguably the No. 1 bullet point on his job description — he's essentially insulting the thousands of librarians and library advocates who all but threw themselves over his desk to make him see the damage he'd be doing.
Stoltze continues: “Garcetti said that he didn't realize libraries would be forced to close when he supported library cuts — even though plenty of librarians offered many warnings during debate.”
And that's not all, Roy Stone, president of the librarians guild, tells the Weekly:
“Last year, Eric Garcetti last year received approximately 10,000 postcards from the public, saying, 'Don't cut our libraries,' 'We love our libraries.'”
Stone claims he and fellow library workers recruited concerned members of the public to write the thousands of postcards, then sent them directly to Garcetti's office during March, April and May — the three months leading up to the council's vote.
In addition, the union erected a billboard in April at one of District 13's most high-profile intersections: Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue. (District 13 is under Garcetti's rule.)
Then there were the mobile sign trucks that dragged messages through every council district, warning the public, and its politicians, of the impending danger.
Even if we give Garcetti the benefit of the doubt — let's say he missed the 10,000 postcards and parading signage — the legislation he helped pass was severe enough to fly very much above the radar: Of 761 city employees who got the ax last spring, almost one in seven worked at a library. The library budget was slashed by $22 million, the city's central and eight regional libraries were closed on Sundays and all 73 libraries closed on Mondays.
Had he asked any librarian, Garcetti would have been quickly informed of the cuts' ultimate victims: kids with nowhere to go after school, nudged onto the path of dropouts and criminals.
Garcetti's spokeswoman hasn't returned our calls today.
From the LA Weekly's Septemper 2010 story “City of Airheads“:
Elyse Barrere, a librarian in Atwater Village, is haunted by what's unfolding in South Central Los Angeles, where she once worked, at the Vernon branch. There, hundreds of Latino and black students typically sought a quiet homework haven after school. “I just keep thinking about those kids,” she says. “The library was a neutral territory where the gangs didn't really come in. It makes me worry about them. It could be a very bad situation.”
As for the councilman who oversees the district in which Stone's own Fairfax library branch lies, Tom LaBonge: “I think he talks about [libraries] when he's campaigning, but anything more than that, I haven't seen.”
On the other hand, Stone points out that one of LaBonge's opponents in the March 8 City Council race, bike activist Stephen Box, has offered to pass out “Yes on Measure L” propaganda while on his own campaign trail. The district's third candidate, Tomas O'Grady, is a big library guy as well.
Of course, the non-incumbents have never felt the pressure of a ballooning city deficit with angry lobbyists pressing in from all sides.
But to say something so impactful as the butchering of L.A.'s entire library system went “under the radar” is no way to handle the pressure. Worse, it's a diss on those who did everything within their power to make sure that wasn't the case.