The city's budget woes have hurt its public libraries with staff cutbacks and closed doors, but Measure L on Tuesday's ballot aims to give libraries more support by increasing city funding for libraries to a projected $130 million dollars each year.
The Public Library Funding Charter Amendment would give libraries a bigger share of property tax revenues through an amendment to the City Charter.
Libraries, in return, would be gradually required to pay a bigger share of expenses like salaries, pensions, equipment and building maintenance, so called "direct and indirect" costs, now coming from the city's General Fund.
Libraries, like many institutions, are having a tough time.
Last summer, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council voted to limit libraries to a five-day-a-week service on Tuesdays through Saturdays. (Editor’s note: It must have been a tough choice—or else an extremely cynical one—for the mayor, who spent much of his youth reading books and studying in public libraries.)
The decision was historic, given that in its 139-year-history, the Los Angeles Public Library system has always remained open at least six days a week.
Morning and evening hours were also trimmed, and 328 staff positions—more than 25 percent of employees—were eliminated through attrition, layoffs and early retirements.
Then in January Governor Jerry Brown proposed a statewide budget to eliminate all state funding for public libraries—a total of $30.4 million.
All this turmoil has some wondering if it's the beginning of the end for free access to Internet, computers and printers as well as tutoring, literacy programs and, of course, books.
Over the last few weeks a great deal of statistics have been bandied about when it comes to what Measure L means, but none explain what the cuts have really meant to the libraries and their patrons. Some influential organizations, including the League of Women Voters, are urging people to vote no on Measure L, arguing that funds that would be earmarked for the libraries are needed to support police and fire services.
"I love the libraries, but what concerns me is that the city says it won't raise taxes [and] it is not talking about where the money will come from," said James O'Sullivan, President of Miracle Mile Association and an opponent of Measure L.
Sullivan was invited to convene with The Los Angeles Times before the paper published a recent editorial opposing the measure. "It's making a decision in the dark," he said of the measure. The Los Angeles Daily News also published an editorial opposing the measure, citing concerns over public safety.
"The measure could mean cuts to police, fire, parks and recreation, and street services," said Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber in a statement. "Measure L simply mandates the movement of money from one pot to another and restricts its use."
Although the LAPD denied a request to comment, it is publicly known that Chief of Police Charlie Beck personally supports Measure L. So do all 15 L.A. City Council members.
The LAPL has responded strongly to the criticism that supporting Measure L could jeopardize public safety if less money is available for police. Library officials have said that the libraries play an intrinsic part in helping prevent crime by offering the city’s largest after-school program, providing children alternatives to gangs and drugs, assisting teens in preparing for college and helping adults and children learn to read. As many as 90,000 children visit the city’s libraries every week.