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Donation Assures Brentwood of Library--and Controversy

February 03, 1988|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Shortly after her husband, Donald, was killed when his private plane crashed five years ago, Glorya Kaufman began searching for a way to honor the wealthy Westside developer who had founded one of the nation's largest home-building companies.

"It just came to me one day to do something about that library," recalled Kaufman, referring to the Brentwood branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, a 28-year-old building that library officials say is woefully inadequate for the affluent community. "It seemed like an up thing to do."

Today, Brentwood is virtually assured of getting a new $1.7-million library that will be paid for largely through private donations. But the proposed Donald Kaufman Branch Library, a proud accomplishment for Kaufman and her neighbors, has become a symbol of favoritism to others--an example, they say, of how money wields influence in Los Angeles.

Twenty-one of the 62 branch libraries throughout the city--including four closed because of earthquake damage and an additional seven still open but deemed seismically unsafe--are on the Library Department's priority list of 25 capital improvement projects for fiscal year 1988-89.

About half of those projects have not received any funding. Yet the proposed Brentwood branch, which is not on the list, was recently allocated $350,500 by the City Council. The council voted to give the money after Kaufman--who has pledged $600,500 to the project--threatened to withdraw her support if the city failed to make a contribution.

"What it has come down to is if you have the money, you can buy a library for your community," said Karen Jaeger, a leader in an effort to replace the Echo Park branch library, which has been housed in temporary quarters since the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. "But if yours is a low-income community, you are up a tree."

Unfair to the Poor

Eastside Councilwoman Gloria Molina, probably the most vocal opponent of the city's allocation, called it a slap in the face for poor communities unable to raise massive amounts of private funds.

"We're letting our priorities be run by somebody else saying: 'Let me give you some money. Switch your priorities and come fix this first,' " an angry Molina said during council debate on the issue.

But other officials say the city is getting a great deal in Brentwood: a bigger library worth five times what the city is paying. The priority list, they argue, is not written in stone, particularly when private donors make an offer too good to refuse.

"Brentwood has had a substandard library for many years," said Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the community. "When Mrs. Kaufman made the offer, I think I, or any other council person, would have seized upon it as an act of great generosity and use it as leverage to get the library built."

Library Need Cited

Said Kaufman, whose husband started Kaufman & Broad Inc.: "I am not a little rich woman on a hill that wants to put her husband's name on something because it is a neat thing to do. . . . We need a new library, and it is fair for us to have a new library."

In a letter to the Board of Library Commissioners in October, Kaufman issued an ultimatum, saying that she was "no longer willing to hear any more excuses" from the city about its contribution to the project. "I feel we have been kept dangling for the past four years," she wrote, threatening to topple the entire project if the city did not act.

Within a month, two City Council committees and the full council had approved the expenditure.

"I don't think we could have gotten any more money from the community if the city hadn't given some money," Kaufman said later in an interview. "People were saying, 'It is a city library. The city should make some effort.' I agree with that."

Not on the List

Yet before Kaufman expressed an interest in it, the red brick and glass Brentwood library was not on any city list for funding. The city administrative officer estimated in a recent report to Mayor Tom Bradley that because the library system has "numerous higher priority needs," it is "unlikely that the city will be able to replace the currently undersized Brentwood Branch Library for several decades."

For the year, the Library Department has received $1.9 million from the city for capital improvement projects, and an additional $2.2 million from the federal government. But that money has been designated for the 11 libraries--and one bookbinding facility--with seismic problems, which still need an additional $7 million to be corrected.

Only one of the 13 non-seismic projects on the city's list has received city funding--$310,000 for a proposed branch in an area of the west San Fernando Valley that has no library. The non-seismic projects will need an additional $40.3 million in local and federal funding, according to city statistics.

'No City Money'

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