Library Decision Angers Latinos

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Carlsbad official has angered some Latinos by keeping off the City Council agenda a proposal to seek a $157,000 federal grant that would provide special library services for Spanish-speaking people in the community.

"They look at us as enemies among them; we're just trying to better the life of everybody here," Ofie Escobedo, a longtime Carlsbad resident who runs a market-deli in the city's small barrio, said Tuesday.

Escobedo, a member of The Partners for Change, a coalition backing the library project, said Assistant City Manager Frank Mannen's decision not to push for the grant shows how Latino needs are ignored.

"I don't understand why they think Hispanics should be put at the bottom of the totem pole," Escobedo said.

Mannen said Tuesday that he did not mean to offend anybody, and was simply trying to be fiscally careful by not prematurely taking the grant proposal before the council.

"It wasn't a judgment on the value or worthiness of the program," Mannen said.

Early this year, the San Diego County Assn. of Governments surveyed more than 400 Latinos in Carlsbad to learn what services they need.

The survey revealed that Latinos want a library information program to help them fill out government forms, understand American laws and find jobs and English classes, according to Gloria Valencia-Cothran.

"There is not one bilingual staff person at the library," said Valencia-Cothran, who was an aide to county Supervisor John MacDonald and now represents the Hispanic Business and Professional Assn. on the coalition.

The grant would have provided bilingual and bicultural staff, she said.

The coalition was formed in May and has representatives from 15 organizations and agencies, among them the Vista Community Clinic, SER-Jobs for Progress, California Rural Legal Assistance and the county Board of Education.

Valencia-Cothran said the coalition hoped the matter would go before the council in time to meet an Aug. 1 deadline to apply for the federal grant, which is administered by the California State Library.

She became upset when she heard Mannen essentially killed the proposal by keeping it from the council's agenda.

That move, Valencia-Cothran said, "is being looked at as a slap at that portion of the community that's under-served."

"A bureaucrat decided we weren't going to be heard by the City Council," she said. "Who's running the show?"

Mannen said he withheld the proposal from the council agenda out of concern that, after first-year grant funding, the city might be left to keep the program operating.

"We're concerned about the financial impact of the grants," he said. "They tend to run out and aren't refunded."

Further, he said, he was reluctant to rush the grant proposal to the council before financial and policy considerations were better evaluated. For example, Mannen said, some of the services for Latinos perhaps could be provided by existing city-funded outreach programs.

Valencia-Cothran said angry Latinos have been calling Mayor Bud Lewis and may have convinced him to try to put the grant on the agenda before the end of July. In addition, she said, supporters plan to bring the matter directly to the council during the public comment session.

She hopes council rules can be waived in time to hear the matter on Tuesday, a day before the grant application is due.

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