Bill Boyarsky
 
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May 25, 2010

An eloquent plea for the libraries

My post about the Los Angeles Public Library budget cuts prompted an eloquent e-mail from Anna Sklar, former public affairs director of the L.A. Department of Public Works and author of the enlightening “Brown Acres: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers,” published by Angel City Press:

Bill,

Your blog today about the library's path to success for children of immigrants reminds me of my own experience with LAPL. It's not just children of immigrants who need public libraries. It's poor and disenfranchised, homeless, or foster kids who need the libraries.

I grew up in an orphanage, and, basically, lived at the local Palms branch (torn down many years ago-replaced by the Palms-Rancho branch that I could not have walked to when I was growing up). LAPL was my home and years later I briefly worked as public relations director in the early 70s, created exhibits that annoyed the hell out of then Councilman Lindsay--in particular, one celebrating 100 years of dissent and protest that featured the voices of Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Rejas Tejerina broadcast in the rotunda, anti-war posters, broadsides (from Spanish-American War to Vietnam), a lengthy reading list of banned books, all sorts of dissent and protest. It was the most fun I ever had, and that year we won the John Cotton Dana Award from the ALA (American Library Association).

Later, I was recruited by the Librarians Guild to help them wage a battle against then Mayor Bradley who had proposed book budget cuts. We won, using the best Saul Alinsky tactics I could share. Ah, those were the days. Today, it's really hard to get a decent public protest going. But I still support the librarians who are trying to save, not only their jobs, but the very essence of the public library. Shame on Villaraigosa and the insipid, in the pocket of who knows what lobbyists council members. Don't see them taking a drastic cut. The worst, of course, is former Police Chief Parks with his double-dipping pension and salary.

Anna

May 19, 2010

Library's hard times

After Independence Day, Los Angeles city libraries will drop a day from their schedules. “There will be 100 layoffs from the library and this will trigger a reduction from six days a week to five days a week,” Martin Gomez, the city librarian, told me.

I talked to him the day after he sat through a long City Council meeting in which the lawmakers voted to eliminate 761 city jobs beginning July 1 to make up for a $485 million deficit.

Gomez said of the 100 positions he must cut, 20 would be librarians, 20 clerks and 60 support workers who sort books, put them on shelves and do other jobs needed in the 72 branch libraries and the big downtown Central Library.

This would reduce library expenditures by $8 million. The cut would come on top of another fiscal blow administered when the council required the library to pay the city General Services Department $22 million a year for the security guards and custodians supplied to the libraries. It adds up, Gomez said, to a $30 million reduction.

As I talked to Gomez, it became clear that among the hardest hit would be the public school students who come to the library to use computers, do research, do homework—and to take out books.

The library has focused attention, Gomez said, “helping students succeed.” The process begins with early childhood reading programs in the branches, and includes encouraging the students who come to the library after school.

This is especially important now, he said, since “school libraries are in worse shape than the public libraries.” Gomez is considering closing the libraries on Mondays so they could remain open on Saturdays. But this would deprive students of the important first day of the week they need to get going on their school assignments.

I can testify to the importance of the libraries to young people. When I was reporting for the Los Angeles Times, I dropped in on branch libraries, especially those in poor neighborhoods, including those where Spanish speakers outnumbered the English speakers. It was great to see the students at work, using the public libraries as a path to success in life, just as previous generations of immigrants have done.

Gomez is trying to build some support to fight the cuts and possibly raise more revenue, maybe from a parcel tax allocated to the libraries The library has large corps of volunteers, centered around its foundation and with its docents. A few days before the council meeting, he spoke at the docents’ annual luncheon. He reminded them “this is a democracy at work and they have their chance to let their representatives know what they think about the process and how it may impact the library.”

May 8, 2010

Backroom politics and the Expo line

When my wife Nancy and I wrote our book “Backroom Politics” in the 1970s, we explained the puzzling maze of boards and commissions that local politicians create to confuse their constituents. The Expo light rail line is a perfect example of what we wrote about.

First of all, ethical considerations—even bloggers occasionally bow to them—require me to reveal my conflicts. I like the Expo project. I live near a proposed station and look forward to the day I can hop on a train to downtown Los Angeles, transfer to the subway to Union Station and then take the shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium. One of my daughters hates the Expo project. She and her husband live near the proposed route. Their youngest daughter goes to Overland School, which the trains will pass. She thinks the trains will cause traffic jams and overwhelm the school and neighborhood with noise.

Now that this family feud is out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

The light rail line is being built by a little-known agency called the Exposition Construction Authority. A seven- person board runs it with members appointed by the Los Angeles City Council, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Monica and Culver City councils. In reality, the city council members and supes appoint themselves. Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas are county supervisors. Jan Perry, Bernard Parks and Herb Wesson are L.A. city council members. Pam O’Connor is a Santa Monica council member and Scott Malsin is on the Culver City Council. These people wear two hats.

Actually, some wear three hats. Malsin, Perry, O’Connor, Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky are also on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, which operates our trains and buses.

All these hats are confusing. When a council member or county supervisor makes a decision at an Expo board meeting, does he or she also take into consideration the campaign contributions received for council or supervisorial elections? Is the Expo board member following some policy he or she previously promulgated while wearing an MTA hat?

All this comes into play in my neighborhood’s biggest Expo line dispute.

Under the plan, the tracks will run along the old Southern Pacific right of way at Exposition Boulevard crossing busy Overland Avenue and Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards, as well as Military Avenue. They will also pass by Overland School at street level.
Neighbors for Smart Rail Expo is trying to force the Expo authority to run the trains below ground. ‘Running 240 trains a day at street level through our community 70 feet from Overland School and 20 feet from homes, blocking access to parks and businesses and grid-locking north south streets is unacceptable,” the group said.

I asked Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer for the Expo authority why lay the tracks at street level.

The Expo board, she explained, was following an MTA policy permitting street level crossings if the streets can handle the traffic. The MTA board set the guidelines and the Expo board was merely following them. But of course these boards are interchangeable, everyone wearing two or three hats.

And the board members run it as a closed club. When Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz tried to get on the Expo board to vote against the project, Los Angeles City Councilman Parks blocked him, Then the Expo board voted 6-0 for a final environmental impact report, clearing the way for construction contracts to be signed. The fix was in.

Exp doesn’t operate in secret. Chief Operating Officer Bricker spent more than an hour on the phone with me, patiently trying to convince me that the trains will not cause traffic jams when they take about 40 seconds to cross Overland, Westwood and Sepulveda during rush hour. We went through the math several times, and I’m still not convinced.

The authority is well covered by Damien Newton in his L.A. Streetsblog.org. Ari Bloomekatz of the Los Angeles Times did a complete story on the Expo authority vote. For those who can’t attend a meeting in the downtown county hall of administration, there is a telephone link.

The main problem is that too many public agencies are involved and there is a certain tendency to pass the buck. These people want the project built with the least expense. Overpasses and underpasses drive up the costs. Furthermore, It’s hard to figure out who is responsible. It is also impossible to know the players’ motives.

If you think this is confusing, a final decision on the street level crossing will be made by an entirely different agency, the California Public Utilities Commission. It usually meets in San Francisco, although sometimes it ventures to L.A. Maybe this is where the protest letters should go.

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