On March 21, the Santa Monica Library main branch reopened, and seemingly the politicos almost maimed themselves with self-congratulatory back-pats. Let's examine their "achievement."
1. In mid-August, 1986, the main branch was closed with an estimate of reopening 12 months later. It took 19 months to open again. To me and many others, this is indicative of political insensitivity and administrative/bureaucratic foul-ups. The Santa Monica community was deprived of a major asset for those many months. (A survey conducted by the city several years ago found Santa Monica residents valued the library among the most important services the city offered.)
Even casual visitors to the main branch can see that young people use it extensively. Yet they too were deprived of use of this valuable asset. I fully realize there was a need to replace the roof because of the asbestos it contained. But, in my mind, the City Council was slow in responding to this need. (In speaking with several library staff people, the council did not respond expeditiously at all to this need).
2. When the library was closed, we were told there was a need for more space. This problem was to be addressed while the library was closed by extending the second-floor balcony over the main floor. I am informed the funds for the extension were included in the budgetary plans for the construction. But considerable underestimation by the bureaucrats of the cost of removing the asbestos made the City Council choose to eliminate those funds, or rather, reallocate them.
I believe the free flow of ideas and information is one of the strong underpinings of a democratic society. A good library greatly facilitates that free flow. I also believe a healthy, well-planned library requires a high priority in the funding allocations of our elected officials. Apparently, the Santa Monica City Council does not share my beliefs.
3. Shortly after the closing, I wrote to then-Mayor Chris Reed, outlining my concerns about the work being done, particularly regarding people in wheelchairs who use the building. Mayor Reed responded to my letter, commenting on its completeness and the issues raised. She said a copy was sent to the city manager to discuss with city staff, including the city librarian.
The city librarian, Carol Aronoff, responded and said she sent a copy to Stan Scholl, director of general services. Mr. Scholl had administrative and apparently financial control over the project. He has shown an enormous insensitivity to the needs of handicapped people who use the library. He has done this by both failing to respond to the issues raised in my letter and, more important, the results of the project. For example, the doors that open to the main part of the library cannot be used by a person in a wheelchair without someone opening them for that person. Another example: There isn't a table in the entire library which a person in a wheelchair can use to peruse any material available.
Scholl should not shoulder the blame alone. The City Council shares responsibility. Its lack of commitment to the library is shown by the low priority the library seems to hold.
In B movies, the phrase "Let's run those scalawags out of town" is used a lot. In our times, the ballot-box can be used. I urge the voters of Santa Monica to remember the library the next time they vote for City Council members.
SANFORD H. SNYDER