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We're Not Being Precocious, We've Just Had It!

posted May 6, 2010, 1:31 PM by Shannon Salmon
May 5, 2010

Mayor Villaraigosa Tops Up His Piggy Bank With L.A. Public Library Budget

LOS ANGELES- You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Los
Angeles is facing a major financial crisis, with Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa and the City Council scrambling to balance a budget
that's teetering perilously close to the edge.

But many have been shocked to see the Los Angeles Public Library
(LAPL)—widely assumed to be high on the list of community services to
be maintained at all costs --  suffer a devastating series of budget
cuts that have already resulted in Sunday closures, reduced weekday
evening hours, and the pending loss of hundreds of experienced staff
members and popular community programs. Despite thousands of petitions
and emails circulated to City officials by library supporters, the
cuts continue.

The City Council's Budget and Finance Committee will send
recommendations to full City Council on May 17, with deliberations
continuing until the budget is passed on June 5. So now is the time to
speak out in support of the Library. The message for Mayor
Villaraigosa and City Council is clear: RESTORE LIBRARY HOURS AND
FUNDING. DON'T BALANCE THE CITY BUDGET ON THE LIBRARY'S BACK.

"If the Mayor is successful in his effort to slash the library budget
we will have hardly any library services available in any community,"
said Roy Stone, President of the Librarians' Guild, AFSCME Local 2626.
"The Mayor's efforts cannot simply be called 'lack of support' of the
library because it has now reached an open and obvious effort to
diminish one of the most important and essential services provided to
every community in the City. The Mayor will single handedly be the
most destructive force in the history of the Los Angeles Public
Library System."

It might seem like the Library is just one casualty among many City
departments in an unexpected financial crisis. But the reality is that
this administration's assault on LAPL began three years ago, with a
blatant and ongoing money grab in which LAPL has been forced to pay
another department's rapidly growing bills. That department is the
General Fund, the central repository of City money used by a variety
of City agencies-- the same General Fund which Controller Wendy Greuel
warns is nearly broke, and which is waiting on promised payments of
$73.5 million from the Department of Water and Power. Instead of
holding the DWP, with its powerful union, responsible for its civic
obligations, the City Library's relatively tiny budget is being gutted
to top up the Mayor's piggy bank.

Over the past three budget cycles, Mayor Villaraigosa has turned to
the library to make up costs where other departments overspent. In
Fiscal Year 2008-09, LAPL was billed $3 Million in building overhead
costs that had always come out of the General Fund; LAPL tightened its
belt and paid the bill. In Fiscal Year 2009-10, LAPL read the budget
and found it was now expected to pay $11.7 Million to the General Fund
to cover overhead costs for maintaining its buildings; again LAPL made
cuts, to book purchases and community services, and paid the bill.

Now, with the General Fund nearly exhausted by an administration that
has spent itself into a hole, the Mayor has again turned to LAPL as an
easy way of covering other departments' debts. The bill for Fiscal
Year 2010-11 is $22 Million, nearly twice what it was last year. The
Library budget just can't take the hit: in mid-April, all L.A.
libraries closed on Sundays, weekday hours were slashed, and hundreds
of experienced staff members are slated for layoff.

What does the Mayor's proposed budget mean for Library service in Los Angeles?

• Libraries will be open only five days a week, for the first time in
LAPL's 138-year history.

• 37% cuts to budget will result in 37% reduction in public services
for the community.

• 30% staff reduction (328 positions) will leave every branch
understaffed. In 1978, when there were only 62 libraries (there are
now 72),  there were 1459 staff members and 6 Million visitors. Under
the Mayor's proposed budget for 2010-11, there will be 848 staff
members to serve 18 Million visitors. Do the math—this is no way to
balance a budget or serve a city.

Shannon Salmon, Young Adult Librarian at LAPL and creator of the Save
the Library website, says "Our staffing is already down 20% from what
it should be. With the 100+ layoffs to occur on July 1st in the
Mayor's budget, we will then be down to 30% of our staffing.  The
reality for the public is that familiar faces will not be there
anymore; the libraries will have to close down to 5 days a week;
evening hours may have to be canceled; there will be less literacy
programs, history programs, art exhibits and storytimes, because the
staff that is left will be so overworked just trying to provide the
basic level of customer services that our patrons need.  All of this,
and we use only 2% of the General Fund budget."

Under no previous administration has the Library ever had to pay into
the General Fund to keep the lights on, water running and trash cans
emptied in the 72 City branches. With a $22 Million bill coming due in
the next Fiscal Year, LAPL will have no choice but to close branches
and eliminate services. But if allowed to keep just $7.8 Million of
that $22 Million, LAPL could keep all branches open six days a week.

The public is urged to visit the Save LAPL website
http://www.savelapl.org, where with a single click they can send a
message to the Mayor and all members of City Council urging them to
restore library funding to its current level, retaining staff, weekend
and evening hours, and community programs. For more information on
this evolving story, visit the Save The Library website at
http://www.savethelibrary.org.
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