After considering at least a dozen new locations for the Los Feliz Branch Library, Los Angeles library planners are about to choose from among three sites that have triggered wide disagreement over the role a library should play in the life of a community.
Some officials argue that the new library should be placed in an urban park that the city is trying to renovate, while others push for sites in quieter areas that they say would serve a neighborhood clientele and would be safer for the many elderly and school-aged users.
Under current plans, the existing facility at 1939 1/2 Hillhurst Ave., which is the city’s smallest at 2,250 square feet, will be relocated into a 10,500-square-foot facility with more parking and expanded programs for adults and children. About $3.3 million of a $53.4-million city bond issue that passed in April, 1989, has been allocated to the new library, which should open at a new location in about four years.
Officials in the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, which oversees Barnsdall Art Park, want the library relocated at the base of the regional art and cultural center on Hollywood Boulevard to enhance the park’s appeal.
The park, with two art centers, an art gallery, a theater and a historic house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is situated on a hill at Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a broader kind of approach to serving the Los Feliz community,” said Adolfo Nodal, general manager of the Cultural Affairs Department, which pumps $1.3 million a year into Barnsdall.
“We have put a lot of energy and time into the hill,” Nodal said. “But the entrance to the park really needs a severe shot in the arm, and we felt a library would really make that happen.”
But many residents and Los Feliz homeowner groups have demanded a Hillhurst Avenue site, contending that the park draws many gang members, drug pushers and homeless people.
“We certainly appreciate . . . the Cultural Affairs Department’s plan to clean up the area, but we don’t want to see library users at risk while the problem is being taken care of,” said Franklin Tom, a member of the Los Feliz Improvement Assn., the community’s largest homeowner group.
Other residents testifying at a mid-December public hearing sponsored by the library department staff argued that the Los Feliz branch should be a neighborhood library rather than a facility serving the northeast region of the city, as does Barnsdall Park, the Greek Theatre and the Griffith Observatory.
The library staff will make its recommendation to the Board of Library Commissioners early next year and the board is expected to make a final selection soon afterward, based upon several factors. These include cost, distance from schools, parking, accessibility by foot, car or bus, the safety of its users, proximity to retail areas and community preference, said Juliana Cheng, a senior management analyst with the library department.
Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, whose district encompasses Los Feliz, is expected to make a recommendation to the board. Woo acknowledged that a library near the art park would bolster his efforts to clean up and renovate the area.
“It would contribute to that goal . . . but there are some people who would argue that a library shouldn’t be used as part of a cleanup effort,” said Woo, who, at the public hearing, told residents that he had not decided which site he prefers.
The three sites being considered are:
* 4820 Hollywood Blvd., next to Barnsdall Art Park. A carwash would have to be relocated, and the site could contain toxic wastes from a gas station formerly located there, Cheng said. It would cost an estimated $2.5 million to acquire the land and an adjacent lot for parking.
Access to the site is limited: Crossing the street is difficult because Hollywood Boulevard traffic is usually heavy and fast, and residents have complained that an alternate underground tunnel is dangerous because of gangs and transients. Some residents said they fear that homeless people who visit a nearby mental health clinic for counseling also could threaten library users.
* 1917-1929 Hillhurst Ave., next to the library’s current location. The site would cost an estimated $1.9 million and would require the relocation of residents of two small businesses and a house.
The site is the cheapest of the three options. But the library department learned recently that the land has been seized by the Internal Revenue Service and is embroiled in federal litigation, which could affect its availability as a site, said Paul Young, an architectural associate for the department.
Young and Cheng said the library’s real estate division is trying to find out the nature of the dispute.
* The southeast corner of Hillhurst and Franklin avenues. The land would cost an estimated $2.4 million and would displace residents of three businesses, a house and up to four apartments.
The site is the largest being considered, but acquiring the land through eminent domain would be the most problematic because more tenants would have to be displaced, library staff members said.
Senior Librarian Thea March said she believes that any of the three sites could serve the library’s traditional elderly users and a growing number of younger, middle-income immigrant readers.
Her priority, she said, is for users to have enough space for storytelling, studying and discussion groups.
“Sometimes I feel like the old woman in the shoe and there are people hanging out the window,” March said. “I really don’t care where they put us. I just want a new library.”
To others, location is critical. The Hillhurst and Franklin site is being recommended by the Friends of the Los Feliz Library, the Los Feliz Improvement Assn., the Franklin Hills Residents Assn., the South Los Feliz Community Assn. and Franklin Elementary School administrators. The groups said the other Hillhurst site is also acceptable.
Most residents at the public hearing, which drew about 150 people, said they supported either Hillhurst location. Most were opposed to the Barnsdall site because they feared using the tunnel and being harassed by gangs.
Nodal contended that the park’s dangerous reputation is exaggerated and said many steps have been taken to improve security. “We’ve always said we didn’t want the Los Feliz Library if it meant breaking the relationship we’ve been trying to establish with the Los Feliz community,” he said. “But Barnsdall Park is getting a bad rap.”
Betty Casteneda, principal of Los Feliz Elementary School, which is next to the park, agreed with Nodal, saying her students travel each day without incident through the underground tunnel. A handful of Los Feliz residents who attended the public hearing also recommended the park option.