Despite protests by Echo Park residents who want a library in the heart of their community, the Los Angeles Board of Library Commissioners gave the go-ahead last Thursday for the purchase of land that would put the branch library south of the Hollywood (101) Freeway.
With virtually no debate, the commissioners unanimously voted to buy a 28,000 square-foot parcel at the corner of Temple and Douglas streets for the new Echo Park library. The land, which has been appraised at $1.6 million, was selected as the preferred site in January, 1990, and the environmental documentation needed to clear the way for its purchase was recently completed. The construction, which will take a year, is expected to start within 18 months to two years.
But many residents of the portion of Echo Park north of the freeway, who feel that their library has been stolen from them, say they will not give up the battle to bring a library to the Logan Street School campus, in the center of Echo Park.
The branch has been in leased temporary quarters since 1971, when the former library building at Glendale Boulevard and Temple Street was declared unsafe as a result of damage from the Sylmar earthquake. The Echo Park branch is one of several scheduled to be repaired or replaced with funds from a 1989 mcity library bond measure.
However, opponents of the site at Temple and Douglas contend that funds can be saved for other branches by placing the new Echo Park branch on school district property. Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District have indicated that they would turn over the school land free if the Library Department would construct a child-care center adjacent to the library.
At the commission meeting Thursday, several people testified in Spanish that the Logan Street site was more accessible for neighborhood children than a site south of the freeway.
Karen Jaeger, secretary of Friends of the Echo Park Library, called the purchase of the Douglas-Temple site a "wasteful purchase," with "no logical explanation." The building at Logan Street would have saved taxpayers thousands of dollars, she said.
But Commissioner Douglas Ring said that, although it appeared to be a good idea, the Logan Street School proposal was simply presented too late in the process.
By the time the idea was brought forward, he said, the commissioners had already selected the Temple-Douglas site. Consideration of the Logan Street site would have required a new round of public hearings, and would have delayed library construction by at least six months.
"We were moving along with the paperwork and at the 23rd hour, they came in and said, 'Wait a minute, put it here,' " Ring said.
Ring also said he is skeptical about school officials' commitment to the project, and that it would have been a slow, laborious task to bring the city and the school bureaucracies together on the project.
Despite the commission's decision, Echo Park residents continue to explore other ways to promote interest in a library nearer the lively but economically depressed business district centered at Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue.
Community leaders met last week with newly elected City Councilman Mike Hernandez and Council President John Ferraro, asking them to figure out some other means of financing the construction of a library at the school, which is one block north of Sunset.
Jaeger said she plans to examine possibilities for funding through grants from private foundations, or other government agencies. If that fails, she said, the community could do as a small town in Maryland did: sell bricks for a new library for a dollar each.
"If we show some stick-to-itiveness, maybe we can get it built," Jaeger said. "We have to come up with a way to do what the community really wants."
Deputies for both Hernandez and Ferraro said they will try to help the effort along in any way they can.
Bonnie Scanlan, the owner of the Echo Park Domino's Pizza, said she sent out more than 1,000 flyers on pizza boxes last week urging patrons to write Hernandez. "Hope can move mountains," Scanlan said. "If people care enough, they can accomplish a lot; it's just a matter of the people standing up and speaking up."