South LA officials and community members push to save libraries

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News

Los Angeles Residents waved signs that read, “Open These Doors,” on the steps of the Angeles Mesa Branch Library. Budget cuts forced public libraries in the city to close their doors twice a week.

Council-member Bernard Parks says residents in the 8th district deserve to have the library open seven days a week.

“Many students come here for after school programs instead of going home to an empty home,” Parks said. “Or going to some other unhealthy after-school activity…we’re talking about unhealthy activities that could be gang related.”

But opponents fear that the measure would reduce the amount of money available for law enforcement agencies, fire services and street cleaning. But Parks, a law enforcement officer for 38 years, said libraries help stop crime.

“The libraries provide just as much or more prevention, intervention and education than law enforcement could ever do,” Parks said. “A librarian today is worth every dollar we spend and is equal if not more important than a police officer.”

Measure L would change the city charter to guarantee the Library Department a higher percentage of property tax revenue. The library would get $18 million in emergency funding without raising taxes. City Librarian Martín Gómez says he backs the measure.

“At a time when unemployment has reached record numbers, when students need all the support and resources they need to succeed, when more and more information is available only to those who can afford access to the Internet, the people he people of Los Angeles need their library now more than ever,” City Librarian Martín Gómez said.

The Los Angeles public libraries serve 15,000 kids every day, Gomez said. Last year, 7 million people visited the library. Roy Stone, President of the Librarians Guild , expressed fear over what might happen if Measure L doesn’t pass.

“Libraries will be closed,” Stone said. “There will be more firing and more layoffs.”

And Cheryl McCall, a clerk typist at the Mesa branch, stressed the importance of the library in the community.

“The library is an artery to the heart of the city of Los Angeles and the community depends upon us to be here and we try to help everyone in all areas of life.”

Yes on Libraries website

Read why the LA Times editorial board opposes Measure L.

First building in South LA retrofitted

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

The first-ever large-scale retrofit program kicked off Monday in South Los Angeles. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilmember Herb Wesson joined community leaders for the unveiling of the Vineyard Recreation Center.

The Green Retrofit and Workforce Program is funded by the American recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program will retrofit 130 buildings in South Los Angeles.

While the unemployment rate for Los Angeles county is 13 percent, the jobless rate in South Los Angeles is a staggering 30 percent.

“For communities like South L.A., we are no strangers to unemployment and underemployment. This recession has had a devastating effect on black and brown families in my community,” community organizer and South L.A. native Virginia Franklin said.

The city council unanimously approved the program that will focus on green upgrades of libraries, recreation centers and fire stations.

“As we retrofit these buildings, they’ll be more energy efficient. They won’t cost the city as much. They’ll reduce their carbon footprint. They’ll continue to contribute to cleaning up our environment because you’re using less electricity and water,” Villaraigosa said.

And it already has generated jobs.

“I was one of the few who got laid off at a particular time…I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Los Angeles resident Paul Mills said. “But the program was offered to us. I met various people from all different backgrounds…and we went through the program and now we’re actually working for the city.”