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New MB Library Moving Forward

When done, the new two-story, 21,500-square foot building will include a homework center with group-study and tutoring rooms, adult reading areas, a teen area, a children's section, 100-seat community meeting room and public access computers.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is moving forward on its plans for a $22.5 million renovation of the Manhattan Beach Library.

And while there is excitement at City Hall about meeting the pent-up demand for a new library, not everyone is happy with the planning and financing of the project.

For City Manager Dave Carmany, there could be no better time or cheaper way to replace a 35-year-old facility that no longer meets the demands of the city's library patrons, both young and old.

According to the city Web site: "No City of Manhattan Beach General Fund monies will be used for the project, nor will the City be issuing any bonds. The City will incur staff costs in the administration of the project, but no other materials, professional services, or construction costs will be incurred."

But Manhattan Beach resident Gerry O'Connor sees things differently. He says the money comes from the citizens of Manhattan Beach, whether the city or county collects it.

O'Connor says Manhattan Beach property owners have been overcharged for library services for years. He believes the city's claim of a bargain is misleading.

Meanwhile, L.A. County, which owns and operates the library at 1322 Highland Avenue, is moving ahead with plans to raze the existing 12,188-square foot facility and replace it with a 21,500 square-foot, two-story glass and steel structure.

On Aug. 9, L.A. County Supervisors delegated authority to County Librarian Margaret Donellan Todd to proceed with the planning and financing of the new library.

One of the first steps is for the county to reimburse the MB City Council for the hiring of MDA Johnson/Favaro, a Culver City architectural firm, to provide consulting, engineering and design services of up to $1.2 million on the project.

No one disputes that funding for the library project comes from the Public Library Designation for Program Expansion, which is financed by property taxes collected throughout the county.

And no one disputes that for years in Manhattan Beach, the share of property taxes earmarked for the Public Library Designation for Program Expansion exceeded the annual operating costs of the Manhattan Beach branch library.

It is how that excess is being spent that some disagree with.

The county set the excess aside. According to county records, the first $5.1 million for the Manhattan Beach Library project will come from that set-aside.

County records state that another $6 million will come from the same set-aside before the project is finished in 2013. The remaining $11.5 million will be financed through general obligation bonds.

Manhattan Beach property owners will service the debt on the bonds through the same set-aside, O'Connor said.

Carmany said that because the library is an L.A. County project, the city has only been invited to provide input into the scope of the project.

"The county is in the lead role," Carmany said. "The city is the lead cheerleader on the project."

Carmany said that because of Southern California's current economic conditions, Manhattan Beach residents could be getting a bargain.

"Right now is a great time for civic construction projects," Carmany said. "The interest paid on bonds is low, and the bids from contractors are quite competitive."

O'Connor is not so rah-rah about the project financing. O'Connor says that there was a time not so long ago when L.A. County operated two libraries in Manhattan Beach.

O'Connor points out that taxes on property owners remained the same when the county consolidated the two libraries into one.

"A few years back, the city realized it," O'Connor said. "The city and county agreed to hold onto the money until it was time to build a new library."

O'Connor said a portion of the set-aside could just as well have been refunded.

"We continued to pay for two libraries," he said. "It's a shell game."

O'Connor said that even though the library is a county operation, he is disappointed with the City of Manhattan Beach for failing to adequately explain to citizens how the library project is being financed.

O'Connor said that he hopes the budget process is properly explained when the city holds its next public meetings seeking input on the library project.

"I believe the city has a responsibility to explain to its citizens exactly how their money is being spent," he said.

Plans call for the demolition of the current building to start Jan. 31, 2013, and for the new library's grand opening to be on New Year's Eve of 2014.

When the existing library is razed, the county will provide a bookmobile for patrons, and every effort will be made to keep children's story time, Carmany said.

Looking ahead, Carmany said the renovation will meet a long-recognized need in the community. He said Manhattan Beach citizens have for years been asking for a larger, more comprehensive library, and that city usage studies back up the perception that the library is too small to meet demand.

The new library will include adult reading areas, a teen area and a children's section. It will also include a homework center with group-study and tutoring rooms.

"We have one of the busiest children's library programs in the county," Carmany said. "But there is not enough room in the current library to meet demand."

Plans also include a 100-seat community meeting room, express-service checkout machines, public access computers and improved walkways and security lighting.

More information about the library expansion and the next scheduled public meetings can be found on the City of Manhattan Beach Web site.

Editor's Note: Public meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11, 6-8 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers during the Cultural Arts Commission meeting; Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers during the Planning Commission meeting and Thursday, Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers during the Library Commission meeting. 

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