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No visible opponent in this battle

AS IF YOU ASKED

If there’s anyone out there actively opposing Measure L, an

initiative proposing the sale of bonds to finance the city’s share of

costs for rebuilding two libraries, I haven’t heard from them. No one

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asked to submit an argument opposing what is titled the “Library

Improvement Bond” for the voter handbook and sample ballot, not even

the Libertarians or familiar anti-tax groups that virtually always

insist on raising at least a symbolic objection to public spending.

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But the committee supporting Measure L, an eclectic mix of

business people, developers, politicians and community activists,

isn’t taking chances. They’re running an exceptionally well-financed,

professionally managed campaign as if there were strong, visible

opposition. But they’re not wasting their time and money, because the

proposal does face some invisible enemies.

The first is the requirement that bond proposals must win approval

from a super- majority of the voters. If office holders had to meet

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the same standard, we’d have seen barely a handful of city, state and

federal representatives elected in the past 50 years.

The measure’s other enemies are apathy and those voters who

reflexively reject any proposal that requires paying new taxes, no

matter the proposal’s merits. Regardless of whether the cash is

intended for a library, a hospital or a school, they simply won’t

agree to paying even a few more dollars. Because no survey or review

of the records can reliably predict how many of those voters will

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head to polls for the primary election Feb. 25, the committee is

working as diligently to combat those enemies as any candidate

campaigning to triumph over a challenger.

Measure proponents, who call their committee “Lifelong Learning --

Yes on Measure L,” want to see Burbank capitalize on the proceeds of

a statewide bond approved in 2000. The state program will provide

two-thirds of the cost of building or replacing libraries, as long as

local government will pay the remaining one-third share.

Burbank has three libraries, and it would be hard to have missed

the newest of those, the Buena Vista Branch, opening in December. It

is an enormous hit with the community, as shown by material check-out

numbers that have skyrocketed over past records, and without cutting

into usage at the city’s two other libraries. But those others -- the

Central Library on Glenoaks Boulevard and the Northwest Branch near

Hollywood Way and Victory Boulevard -- were looking shabby and

falling short even before they were compared to their glamorous new

sister.

The Central Library was built in 1963, and quickly outgrew its

44,680 square feet. As has been the case when I’ve looked into

rebuilding other civic structures, the space required today in a

library just for computers and even simpler technology that just

didn’t exist in 1963 is boggling.

For example, when Central was designed, no one included a wing to

be devoted to videotape and DVD materials. And setting aside for a

moment computers used by the library system, it was only in the past

decade that providing computers for library patrons has become a

standard.

The Northwest Branch faces almost identical hurdles, and it does

so in a fraction of the space. That library, built in 1972, is a mere

6,510 square feet. In recent years, as was the case just this past

summer, when my kids were participating in a program there, plans

sometimes have to be shifted when 30-year-old institutional plumbing

provides surprises that move indoor programs outside, and outside

programs even further outside.

City planners and designers have set the cost of replacing both

library facilities at $38 million. Upon approval of an application,

and if Burbank can guarantee to pay its $14 million share of that

total, state bond funds are available to cover the remaining $24

million. In addition, a feature of which Measure L supporters are

proud is a condition that, if the state’s money doesn’t come through,

the library bonds can’t be sold, and the resulting tax isn’t imposed.

That tax, incidentally, is estimated at $3 per month for each

$100,000 your home is worth. While measure fans pooh-pooh that in

their literature as “only 10 cents daily,” I think it’s a significant

figure, and it only applies to homes worth $100,000. It’s hard to

find properties like that in Burbank, with most valued at least two

and three times that. Ten cents daily isn’t a lot, but triple it to

reflect reality, then add it to all the other things that cost us

“only” 10 cents per day. I happen to think libraries are worth it,

especially given the state of the two Burbank would like to replace.

But I confess the dismissive attitude toward the numbers involved

makes me bristle a bit.

Measure L comes with all the protective bells and whistles

standard with bond issues these days, including a committee to assure

the money goes only where it’s supposed to, and regular audits.

I’ve been especially impressed by the campaign effort exerted by

“Lifelong Learning -- Yes on Measure L.” Supporters are out there

walking door to door, speaking at public meetings, and lining up

endorsements from virtually every local politician, leaders of city

employee groups, and other vocal organizations.

The committee isn’t bound by campaign-finance limits imposed on

council candidates. The largest chunk collected thus far came in a

$25,000 check from Friends of the Burbank Library. But many others

have donated hundreds of dollars to the effort, or five dollars. The

money, according to reports filed last week for a period ending Jan.

11, has totaled almost $36,000. It has gone toward campaign signs, a

professional crew of campaign managers, and for slick literature that

has and will continue to arrive in Burbank mailboxes.

It’s hard enough for election candidates to confront and do battle

with their critics and opponents.

But I can’t imagine what it must be like for Measure L backers

having to combat enemies that can’t be seen, heard or debated. And it

appears they’re going to continue fighting right through election

day, with no way to get a clue as to how they’re doing until it’s all

over and the votes have been counted.

* WILL ROGERS’ column appears in every edition of the Leader. He

can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail ext. 906, or by

e-mail at will.rogers@latimes. com or willrogersemail@earthlink. net.


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