September 19, 2019

County Approves Library Proposal


The dreams of many Topangans for a local library took a major step forward on Friday, January 16, when Los Angeles County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd hand-delivered the Topanga Library Project grant application to the State Library Board in Sacramento. The application seeks $5,222,095 in state Proposition 14 funding, roughly 65 percent of the cost of constructing an 11,048 square-foot library in the center of town on the site, currently owned by the County Waterworks District, which now houses the Resource Conservation District trailer.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously signed off on the Topanga Library Project grant proposal at its final meeting of 2003. At the same December 16 meeting, the Supervisors approved the total estimated budget of $10,010,790 for the Topanga Library Project, committing the County to providing the $4,788,695 in local funding needed to complete the library should the state grant be awarded.

“The County match has been set aside,” says County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who has championed the measure on behalf of Topanga. “The property is there, and we have taken care of the problems with using it. Now we just have to wait and see. If the state makes the funding available to us, we’re ready to move forward on this.”

If Topanga receives the grant, construction is slated to begin in May 2006 and to end a year later. The library would open to the public in September 2007

Library to Provide

More than Books

“It’s so exciting to see this process move forward,” said Cynthia Scott, who helped to launch the drive for a Topanga library four years ago while working as a volunteer at the bookmobile. “It’s like watering a plant, and then seeing it grow”

Adriane Allan, Scott’s co-founder of Friends of the Proposed Topanga Library, was also thrilled with the development.

“We’re so grateful to Zev, to Margaret, and to everyone with the County for the way they have listened, and taken it seriously; for the way they have embraced this vision and supported it and made it their own. We really appreciate all the time they have put into this, all the meetings with the community, and focus groups. And we’re really thankful to Zev for his generosity to Topanga—with the ball field, the Community House, and now with the library. We’re incredibly grateful.”

Yaroslavsky said he was particularly responsive to Topanga’s request because of his love of libraries.

“Libraries are the great intellectual common place for Americans. It is one place where everybody is equal—everybody can come in and have equal access to information. I learned my research skills at a public library. I did my school papers and book reports at a public library. And once it had lured me in, the library opened up a broader world to me I had not seen before. It’s a great community asset.”

As described in the grant application, the new library will feature an elevated one-story design with 52 on-site parking spaces, most of them beneath the building. Through a cooperative agreement with LAUSD, the library will offer a homework center accommodating 20 students with eight computer workstations, high-speed internet access, curriculum materials, and homework assistance for students in grades K-12.

The library design also boasts a community meeting room with seating for 75 people; a smaller group study room seating six; a dedicated children’s space for kids and their parents; a teen area; an adult reading room; and patio areas where users can read while they drink coffee and soak in the surrounding mountain vistas.

Resources will include an expanded reference section; a special collection devoted to environmental subjects; a new collection of more than 42,000 books and audiovisual materials; and 18 public access computers, also equipped with high-speed internet access.

In addition, Ami Kirby says she has been approached about the possibility of cataloging and archiving the Topanga Historical Society’s collection at the new library.

“It would be a wonderful opportunity, and we’re interested in continuing to explore it,” says Kirby. “It would give the community so much greater access to our archives than we are able to do in our current space with a limited volunteer schedule.”

Topanga to Face

Fierce Competition

Prop 14—the California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction Bond Act of 2000 set aside $350 million in state funds to be awarded to local library jurisdictions for construction and renovation of library facilities. Prop 14 grants are being awarded on a competitive basis in three separate application and funding cycles. January 16 marked the deadline for the third and final funding cycle.

According to Richard B. Hall, the State Library Board’s Bond Act Manager, Topanga’s application is likely to face stiff competition and a painstaking review process before it gets a thumbs up or down from the State Library Board.

Hall says the State Library Board received 72 applications requesting more than $586 million in state funding by the January 16 deadline.

“In the past two funding cycles, we got about 65 applications per cycle,” says Hall.

Four of the 72 applications filed this cycle come from Los Angeles County alone. According to County Librarian Todd, in addition to the Topanga Library Project, the County is submitting grant applications for libraries in the Acton/Agua Dulce area, the East San Gabriel Valley and Lawndale. The County is also sponsoring three grant bids put forward by cities for whom it provides services—West Hollywood, Diamond Bar, and Duarte.

Collectively, these County-backed proposals account for more than $73.3 million in requests for funding. The problem—less than $95 million is available for distribution among all of the applicants statewide in this final cycle.

“It’s not a matter of state budget cuts,” says the State Board’s Richard Hall. “These are separate funds that have been set aside solely for the construction or improvement of libraries. It’s just that there is so much need out there and most of the funds set aside under Prop 14 have already been awarded.”

Hall says that the state has identified more than $2 billion in “immediate” need for new construction and renovation of libraries. Of the $350 million Prop 14 set aside to address that need, more than $250 million in grants have already been awarded.

Yaroslavsky says he is a “realist, but not a pessimist” about Topanga’s chances of winning a share of the funds remaining.

“If you’ve got $586 million in grant requests going after $95 million, that sounds like a 1 in 6 chance of winning. The odds are against it, but those are better odds than the lottery. Plus you’re talking about a very under-served area in terms of libraries. I think we have a shot.”

Assuming Topanga’s application is deemed complete and properly filled out, it will head for review by a panel of the State Board’s Office of Library Construction staff. In a process Hall says has in the past taken an additional four to five months, each panel member evaluates the applications based on seven criteria set forth in the Bond Act.

Three of these factors—the needs of urban and rural areas; population growth; and in the case of new libraries, the financial ability of the applicant to open and maintain operation of the proposed library—are not rated by the panel members, but are simply summarized based upon data obtained from the application.

However, panel members evaluate the application with respect to each of the four remaining factors: age and condition of existing library facility; inadequacy of the existing library in meeting the needs of residents and the responsiveness of the proposed project to meeting the needs; how well the plan integrates appropriate electronic technology; and appropriateness of site for the proposed project.

Bottom line, says Hall, “this process has been incredibly competitive. In order to receive a grant, an app