Measure L would help fund LA's libraries, but could lead to deeper cuts in other departments

Los Angeles' Central Public Library is illuminated on the night of December 1, 2009 in downtown Los Angeles.
Los Angeles' Central Public Library is illuminated on the night of December 1, 2009 in downtown Los Angeles. Charley Gallay/Getty Images

When it comes to budget cuts, libraries are often at the top of the list. Due to budget cuts, libraries in Los Angeles have laid off a quarter of their staff. The upcoming election's Measure L seeks to allocate more money to libraries.

On Sundays and Mondays now, libraries are completely empty, forced to close two days a week after having their budget cut. It's unprecedented in the city's history for libraries to be closed like this.

Librarians say there's a rush of people in the final hours on Saturday before the two-day closedown, and another crush on Tuesday morning when libraries reopen, particularly downtown.

One library fan spoke with KPCC's Frank Stoltze. "I use the central library in downtown L.A. It's my favorite branch, 'cause it has, like everything goes through there. I can get my manga fix," she said. "Japanese comic books. I love the books!" She lives in tough neighborhood just west of downtown and says the library is her haven.

Measure L is a charter change. It would bump the percentage of property tax that goes to L.A. libraries from 0.0175 percent to 0.03 percent over three years.

It's not a property tax increase; it would lock up money already being raised from property taxes. The library's budget would go from $106 million to $130 million.

A few neighborhood council leaders oppose Measure L, saying it's not a good idea to lock in money for specific things, as it reduces the flexibility leaders have in tough budgeting times. The L.A. Times also published an editorial opposing it, calling it "ballot box budgeting" and noting that it would likely lead to deeper cuts in other departments.

The union representing police officers also opposes it. Putting this money out of reach of other departments likely means less money for the police department, which currently gets over half of the general fund. Other departments could also see cuts.

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck signed on to support Measure L, noting that libraries keep kids out of gangs. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villraigosa and the City Council also support it, despite being the ones who made the cuts to library funding in the first place.

City Council President Eric Garcetti told KPCC's Frank Stoltze that the Council will restore library funding whether Measure L passes or not, but this ensures that after the current City Council members are gone, the libraries would still be funded.

Garcetti said that the previous cuts "kind of went under the radar" and that he didn't realize L.A.'s libraries would have to close when he supported cuts.

Measure L would also require libraries to pay more for water, power and employee health care, which are currently covered by the general fund.

FUnding for actual library services such as keeping the libraries open and putting books on the shelves will be fully restored in about three years after Measure L passes, so libraries could be back up to speed in 2014.

- Frank Stoltze, Madeleine Brand & Mike Roe

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