EDITOR’S NOTE: At 9:30 a.m. today, fired library workers and their supporters among city employees and ordinary citizens will stage a rally at the Richard J. Riordan Central Library, 5th and Grand, in protest against the policies of the mayor and City Council that have closed libraries two days a week. At the same time as the protest, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will take his broken elbow to the South Los Angeles Animal Shelter for a fund-raising event for his girlfriend and her Lu Parker Project which plans to paint the shelter’s lobby as its first effort on behalf of pets.
Don’t bother going to your local library today to read a book, use a computer or just cool off from the summer heat.
For the first time ever, our beautiful new libraries that we built at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars will be closed on a non-holiday Monday. Just like that, we have gone from a seven-day-a-week library system to a five-day-a-week system, from one of the best library systems in the world to a dysfunctional one.
It is a crime against the city and its people.
Years of throwing away the public’s money have led the city’s bankrupt leadership to lay off several hundred workers, starting with the libraries, then the parks, then building code enforcers and neighborhoods planners.
It’s a downhill slide. City workers who provide direct services to the public in general are the first to go, while those that provide bureaucratic services to the failed system itself and those that generate revenue — like services to help developers — are protected.
The reason is simple: The cost of wages and benefits for the city’s 50,000 workers are too high and can no longer be afforded.
They are too high because the mayor and Council gave city unions one sweetheart contract after another in exchange for the campaign cash and political support that put them into office and kept them there.
The unions are at fault for not looking beyond their immediate self-interest and seeing the impact that inadequate public services was having on the quality of life in our neighborhoods, for not seeing how high taxation and poor services was killing jobs and driving business away.
But they are not the criminals.
Our elected officials are the perpetrators of this crime against the city. They are the ones who cut the deals with unions, developers and contractors that have left the city broke, and broken. They did it knowingly and willfully for their own benefit without regard to the public interest, which makes it a felony in moral terms at least.
Everything they have done to deal with the fiscal crisis that was looming for years has only made things worse. It’s just one small thing among the thousands of wasteful things the city does, but dozens of library workers are at their jobs today in closed libraries,running up bills for air conditioning and lights.
The incompetence of our city officials extends to selling off valuable assets like parking structures and land holdings at the bottom of the market just to get through this year and have no plan to deal with the $300 million deficit next year or the $1 billion deficit the year after, no plan except more layoffs and new ways of squeezing more money out of the public through higher rates, taxes, fees and penalties.
And yet they party on with their lavish perks and enormous staffs and huge salaries, the nation’s highest.
Our freeloading ceremonial mayor sets the tone by acting like Nero fiddling while his city burns.
Two days after the librarians announced their protest for Monday morning, he puts out a press release for his girlfriend’s fund-raiser as if she were the city’s First Lady, not his second TV newswoman mistress.
He mocks us all with his behavior, even as his political lackeys insult our intelligence with their specious attempts to deflect the public conversation from how we fix what he has broken to a theater of irrelevant absurdities.
The Council is no better, spending endless hours on inane parliamentary maneuvers and distractions but fail to openly and honestly debate the real issues, refusing.to bring the civic, business, labor and community leadership to the table to find solutions and bring the city together to solve this crisis.
City Hall’s attempt at a preemptive strike against LA Clean Sweep and the effort to build a broad-based grassroots movement to elect better people for a greater city only shows how scared they are of the people, how intent they are on squelching the public conversation and protecting their privileged positions.
But it will fail like everything they do.
The community in all its diversity, with all its competing interests, with all its conflicts in values, will inevitably come together because our elected officials have neglected their sworn duties and are turning a crisis into a calamity.
It doesn’t have to happen. There is another way. It’s only a question of time and how much more damage is done before we come together.