Los Angeles parks commissioners this week bluntly dismissed another city official's suggestion that land in Barnsdall Park be turned over at no charge for a new Los Feliz Branch Library.
A majority of members at a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners indicated Monday that they would consider allowing construction of a branch library in the east Hollywood park, but only if the library department pays fair market value for the land.
"I cannot conceive of the transfer of any piece of real estate without considering the price," Commissioner Dominick Rubalcava told Sanford Paris, president of the Board of Library Commissioners. "The price would be predicated on the fair market value. It doesn't seem logical to assume anything other than that."
Paris appeared before the parks board to ask about "the dollars and cents" of a land deal for a library at Barnsdall. One of two other commissioners present said he agreed with Rubalcava. The third did not comment.
Barnsdall Park is one of three sites under consideration by the library commission for relocation of the Los Feliz branch, now in a storefront on Hillhurst Avenue. The library department has estimated the cost of the other two sites--both on Hillhurst Avenue within blocks of the present site--at $1.9 million and $2.4 million, respectively.
Barnsdall, home of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House, was proposed as a library site by Adolfo Nodal, general manager of the city's Cultural Affairs Department. Nodal said the library would enhance the regional cultural center, which is struggling because of a scarcity of money and visitors. The Cultural Affairs Department oversees programing in the park for a theater, an art gallery, two art centers and Hollyhock House.
Nodal suggested that the Recreation and Parks Department, which owns the land, make a parcel available for free or for a symbolic rent of $1 a year.
At a meeting earlier this summer, the parks commissioners said they would consider a request to build a library at the park, but did not indicate whether they would consider allowing the library department to use the land for free.
Paris, who attended Monday's meeting to seek clarification, declined to predict how the park commissioners' response would affect the library commission's decision.
"It's premature," he said.
But a leader of the Save Our Library Coalition, which advocates either of the Hillhurst sites, said the group hopes that this will put an end to serious consideration of the Barnsdall site.
"We are elated," said Donna Matson, coordinator of the coalition. "The only reason they were interested in this is because they thought it was going to be free. We hope it's dead in the water."
The Los Feliz community has been sharply divided on the issue. Members of the Save Our Library Coalition contend that the Hillhurst sites are near several schools, and that problems with traffic and crime in the Barnsdall Park area would deter its use by many community members.
Those who favor Barnsdall accuse their opponents of elitism, and say that having the library at Barnsdall would benefit the entire region.
City government officials are equally split.
James E. Hadaway, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks, wrote a report earlier this summer opposing a library at the park, saying that there are already too many buildings there and that the neighborhood needs the open space.
Councilman John Ferraro, who represents a portion of Los Feliz, wrote a letter to the library commission opposing a library in the park.
But Councilman Michael Woo, whose district encompasses all three site options, has endorsed the Barnsdall site. Woo said Tuesday that while he was not aware of Paris' appearance before the parks commission, he would reconsider his position if the commission demands fair market value for the land.
"The cost issue was one of the main factors in my mind that led me to endorse that site," Woo said.
The library commissioners are scheduled to take up the matter at their Sept. 12 meeting.