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Library Site Controversy Splits Los Feliz Residents

June 06, 1991|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ken and Sherry Lewis spent their wedding anniversary last week arguing in an elementary school auditorium, with more than 300 of their Los Feliz neighbors joining in the four-hour clash.

The issue was not children, finances or prenuptial agreements--but where Los Angeles officials should relocate and expand the Los Feliz branch library, now in a temporary shelter at 1939 1/2 Hillhurst Ave.

Dozens of residents, including the Lewises, have lined up on opposite ends of the issue, which began simmering nearly two years ago. The question of location, both sides agree, has become a volatile debate over neighborhood rights versus regional needs. It has split the Los Feliz community.

Residents such as Sherry Lewis, director of a historic house at Barnsdall Art Park on Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, want the library relocated at the hilltop park to strengthen the struggling regional cultural center.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 13, 1991 Home Edition Glendale Part J Page 3 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Library--An article last week on proposed sites for the Los Feliz Branch Library incorrectly listed property at 1927-29 Hillhurst Ave. as being subject to a federal tax lien. The lien applies only to the lot at 1917 Hillhurst Ave., although it could affect any library plan to buy the other lots.

Those supporters, including the city's Cultural Affairs Department, which runs the art park, say a library there would tie the community together and improve the park's front entrance, which is poorly maintained and awkward for car and foot traffic.

They also say the site might be free: Cultural Affairs is asking the Department of Recreation and Parks, which owns the land, to donate 56,000 square feet of the parking lot for the library. That could mean a savings of up to $2 million, said Al Nodal, general manager of Cultural Affairs.

But residents such as Ken Lewis, president of the Los Feliz Improvement Assn., want to move the library only a short distance to one of two larger sites on Hillhurst Avenue.

They say they have been entitled to a full-fledged, neighborhood library since a temporary branch opened in 1924, and argue that both Hillhurst sites are centrally located in Los Feliz, are closer to several schools and have less traffic, crime and blight than Barnsdall Park.

Los Angeles Public Library officials are expected to recommend one of the three sites within 30 days to the department's Board of Commissioners, a five-member panel that will make the final decision, said Fontayne Holmes, assistant director of branch libraries.

At a community meeting last Thursday at Franklin Elementary School, the Lewises and hundreds of other Los Feliz residents crowded into a small auditorium to give their recommendations in angry and passionate tones.

Some Hillhurst advocates accused Barnsdall supporters of using political tactics and betraying the neighborhood in favor of a regional facility.

"This has to do with power and money," said Philip Homsey, a spokesman for Save Our Library Coalition, which includes four homeowner groups, five schools and the Friends of the Los Feliz Library, a support group for the branch.

Some Barnsdall advocates countered with claims that Hillhurst supporters are elitists who do not want to be associated with poorer neighborhoods in the southern part of the community. Others simply maintained that a library at the park offers more options for its users.

"It's the difference between building a small library on a hill and putting a library on a university campus," said Cheryl Johnson, a leader of the Barnsdall effort. "The synergies are incredible."

Both sides set up tables with petitions and handed out literature. A few Franklin Elementary students wearing school T-shirts spoke on behalf of the Hillhurst site. Many adults wore Hillhurst stickers and displayed posters.

Other adults and about 100 children, most from Los Feliz Elementary School near Barnsdall Park, wore green T-shirts with the park's emblem and name to indicate their preference. The shirts were purchased by leaders of the Barnsdall effort, Johnson said.

Many of the comments and tactics were directed at Councilman Michael Woo, whose district encompasses all of the site options and who is expected to soon make his own recommendation to the Board of Commissioners.

"This is the first time I've come up against this kind of internal split within a community," Woo said this week. "It will not be an easy decision because I could tell from the meeting that there are some passionate feelings on both sides."

A 1989 municipal bond election authorized $53.4 million to replace, renovate or build 29 branch libraries. About $3.3 million has been allocated to relocate and expand the Los Feliz branch, which is expected to open at a new location in about four years, library department officials said.

The department originally considered about 15 possible sites for the Los Feliz branch, but last year narrowed the list down to three: two locations on Hillhurst Avenue, both occupied by businesses or residences, and a Hollywood Boulevard lot next to Barnsdall Park that houses a carwash.

At a community meeting in December, dozens of residents told library officials that they preferred the site at the southeast corner of Hillhurst and Franklin avenues. Only a few said they supported the carwash site near Barnsdall, and the department dropped that option.

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