After missing two chances in the past year to gain state funding, libraries in Los Angeles County and throughout the state are struggling to meet a massive demand for new facilities that falls far short of available funds. State and local officials have estimated a demand of $8 billion for new library facilities across the state, including $1billion in Los Angeles County alone. But one year ago this month, state voters rejected a $600 million bond measure to build new libraries. Then earlier this month, the state Legislature held in committee a proposal for a $4 billion library bond measure on next year’s ballot, dashing the hopes of library supporters who say local resources are not enough to meet the demand. `There are some that have been able to find \, but it’s a real tough go,” said Margaret Todd, the Los Angeles County head librarian, and president of the California Library Association. Todd said the county library system has been fortunate in getting support from the Board of Supervisors for at least five projects that are currently moving forward at a budgeted cost of more than $60 million. The county is planning to build more libraries in Topanga Canyon, La Crescenta, Acton/Agua Dulce, Lawndale and an unincorporated area near Whittier. The Topanga project, located on the edge of a coastal zone, was approved by the California Coastal Commission on Thursday and is moving toward a construction start date of February 2008. The La Crescenta project is scheduled to open in fall 2009. Board of Supervisors Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky said even while the county faces other pressing problems such as health care and prisons, the county recognizes the importance for finding money for libraries and other cultural resources. “Libraries are the intellectual commons for our constituency,” Yaroslavsky said. “You can go and access any information on any computer, any encyclopedia, any reference material we have at no cost. “It’s the one place where no matter how wealthy or poor you are, you have the same access to information as the next guy, and with that information you can act. In a community like Los Angeles County you can do a lot with information to improve your quality of life.” Construction on the Topanga library is supposed to start in February 2008, and the facility is supposed to open by December 2009. It will be about 11,000 square feet, and hold about 50,000 items. The $14.2 million cost is coming from the county general fund and road fund. Wendy Romano, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County library system, said the Topanga community has no library service nearby, other than a small bookmobile that visits the area twice a week. “It’s a great community of readers,” she said, referring to a community study the library system performed in 2004. “They’re in an isolated area, and they have to leave to go out for library building service. They very much wanted spaces for children and teen activities and community meeting space.” The new La Crescenta Library, to be located at 2809 Foothill Blvd., will house about 81,000 items in 15,000 square feet. The project is budgeted at $14.6 million. But other cities are struggling to meet their needs in the absence of state funding. The city of Burbank has been hoping for years to build a new Central Library across from its current location and expand the Northwest branch on Victory Boulevard, but has been unable to obtain the funding either from the state or the city’s own funds. Jody Hidey, senior administrative analyst with the Burbank Public Library, said the Central Library project would cost at least $40 million. The city had hoped to get funding from an earlier state library bond for $350 million approved by voters in 2000, but didn’t make the cut for approved projects. Then voters rejected last year’s measure. After that, the city was hoping this year’s proposed $4 billion measure, Senate Bill 156, by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would move forward. Instead it was held in committee without action, though as a two-year bill it is expected to return for debate next January. “As a city we just don’t have the finances to go ahead and build it on our own,” Hidey said. The city of Los Angeles is perhaps an exception to the rule. This year the city is completing a massive 15-year library building program at a cost of $317 million from a combination of bonds and city funds, according to library officials. In the San Fernando Valley alone, the city rebuilt 15 branches and created three new branches. “We’re really proud of the fact that this is the largest library construction program in the nation,” said Los Angeles Public Library spokesman Peter Persic. “Not only did we deliver every library that was promised to the voters, but we actually came in on time and under budget, which allowed us to add projects.” Even with that massive project completed, the city still has additional needs for more libraries. A recent survey catalogued the need for renovations or construction of 19 additional facilities throughout the city, at an estimated cost of $456 million. [email protected]
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