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Controversy Clouds New Library Opening and Book Fair

Critics of Weho’s showcase events in West Hollywood Park raise issues of cost, fund-raising, possible cronyism and accountability.

West Hollywood’s new $64 million library, officially opening Saturday, and the 10th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair, taking place the next day, are impressive projects for a city only 1.9 square miles with a population the 2010 U.S. Census has at just over 34,000.

The two events, both to be held in , are reflective of a culturally minded community, featuring special collections, highly valued artwork and other costly features.

Yet to some residents, the glamorous projects are also symptomatic of a city losing much of the counterculture character for which it was once known, transformed by excessive spending and commercial growth into a congested municipality preoccupied with image and personal political agendas.

Some see library and book fair as pet Heilman-Land projects

From the outset, the award-winning book fair has been a special project of John Heilman, a city founder and councilman since 1984. Adding strong support has been Councilwoman Abbe Land, Heilman’s longtime political ally, who joined the council in a 1986 midterm election.

Heilman and Land have long been perceived by some as a savvy
political tag team, dominating council politics and  at the detriment of lower-income residents.

On the other side, their supporters have seen them as dedicated and dynamic leaders who have helped transform West Hollywood into a vibrant and progressive community with admirable social services dependent on continued retail growth and a strong tax base.

Throughout much of their long council tenures, the routinely elected incumbents have built well-funded and formidable campaigns, mustering three-vote coalitions on the five-member City Council and strongly influencing the city’s pro-development and culturally enriched direction, including the ambitious library and book fair projects.

Who controls the two costly cultural projects?

For all the praise and recognition the two projects have generated, some local political figures and community activists contend that
the book fair and the new library have been operated as personal office projects by Heilman and Land, to the exclusion of other council members and their input, and without sufficient scrutiny.

Some critics of the new library have also questioned whether
the money could have been better spent on more worthy programs, particularly in a digital age when downloadable books are gradually replacing printed books, children make up only about 4 percent of the city’s population, and with an excellent public library available nearby in Beverly Hills.

“We conducted numerous public surveys and the need for an
improved library was always high on the public's list,” Heilman told Patch in a recent email exchange. “I think people are correct that libraries have changed in the digital age, and our new library is designed to respond to the different ways people now access information."

He noted that the new library will provide 150,000 printed volumes, along with more computer stations and laptops. “We will have a dedicated children's area and dedicated LGBT collection," Heilman said. "We will have an area featuring foreign language publications, as well several community meeting spaces.”

The new library will also include an employment assistance section, a new auditorium for civic meetings, parking, and the addition of “substantial amounts of open space for the community," he said.

Responding to claims that he has personally controlled the library’s development, Heilman said numerous people have been involved.

"We've had input and involvement from several task forces and from numerous board and commission members over the years," he said. "All of the significant decisions regarding the new library have been approved by the entire council, usually unanimously.”

Library Park Fund raises conflict of interest concerns

Some questions have focused on fundraising, including the Library
Park Fund, set up as a nonprofit to accept private donations. As a nonprofit, the Library Park Fund donor list can legally be kept confidential and after briefly being posted, has been sealed
from public access.

Some who viewed the list before it was sealed report that most of the major donors are developers, contractors and others from the
business sector who might gain financially from contributions to a pet project of Heilman and Land, potentially currying their council votes.

The board of directors for the fund is likewise stocked with business executives and others who have .

“Abbe Land and I have served as liaisons to the Library Fundraising Committee, so we have played a larger role in that regard,” Heilman said, adding, “The Library Fundraising Committee was created with the
support of the entire council to separate the fundraising effort from the city. We maintain very clear guidelines to ensure all donations are solicited properly to avoid any conflicts of interests.”

March election changed political balance at City Hall

Some of these issues surfaced during the city’s hotly contested March election when rookie candidate John D’Amico, who ran on a platform favoring slower growth and more government transparency, won one of three available council seats.

His victory broke up the alliance of Heilman, Land and Lindsay Horvath, a political novice who was appointed to the council in 2009 after the death of longtime Councilman Sal Guarriello, another Heilman-Land ally who ran with them on a three-candidate ticket during the previous election.

D’Amico’s addition to the council ostensibly ended what some have characterized as an entrenched Heilman-Land power bloc at City Hall. 

Questions have since been raised about Heilman’s and Land’s alleged control of the book fair and the new library, including concerns about a no-bid contract awarded to Roz Helfand, a paid consultant to the city and a vital figure behind the book fair each year.

As an intern in Heilman’s council office, Helfand was a primary organizer of the first book fair in 2002 and is now generally regarded
as the key coordinator of the annual event, working out of a City Hall office. Her unique status has given ammunition to some Heilman critics, who claim he has created his own unofficial “extended
staff” that affords him disproportionate power in City Hall matters.

When the issue arose during a July council meeting, Heilman angrily defended Helfand.

“Roz has done an extraordinary job with this book fair,” Heilman said. “She is the one who has caused this book fair to grow initially from a very small event to one that is recognized regionally. Yes, she did start out as an intern in my office. There are a number of people at City Hall who are currently full-time employees who started out as interns.”

Both council members concur on value of two projects

As for the costs involved with the new library, Mayor John Duran pointed out that West Hollywood is financially strong in these bleak economic times, putting the city in a better negotiating position with construction companies eager for work.

“We’ve made some very good construction contracts, and have been able to save the taxpayers considerable money," he said. "Due to the
economic reality in the U.S. today, it’s rare to see a city constructing
capital projects, which the library is. While other cities are cutting services and worthwhile projects, we’re actually expanding them.”

For his part, Heilman hopes residents will put politics and
complaints aside this weekend and turn out for West Hollywood’s two historic events.

“I've talked to a number of residents who are very excited about the opening of the new library,” Heilman said. “I hope people will come
out and discover their own favorite component of the new library. Many people have already discovered the parking structure and the artwork in the rear of the library, but the inside also has some spectacular art and some exciting design finishes."

The opening of the new library also coincides with the 10th anniversary of the West Hollywood Book Fair, which features authors, publishers and book vendors.

“This year, the Book Fair wll not only be in West Hollywood Park, but it will also utilize space within the new library facility," Heilman said. "And the lineup of authors this year is one of the best ever.”

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me September 29, 2011 at 05:42 PM
i say the state should be brought in to investigate the shady dealings at city hall
A. Lee WALKUP September 29, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Gentlemen: The new Library and the annuall Book Fairs are milestones in the cultural life of this Creative City, West Hollywood. As a 20-year resident, a civic and political activist, and member of a City advisory board, I take great pride in being part of the expanisive thinking that carries our 1.9 square miles City well above much larger ones which do not have the base nor the foresight to think big while protecting our diverse constituent residents. A, Lee WALKUP /s/
me September 29, 2011 at 06:04 PM
um, what???
Paul September 29, 2011 at 06:45 PM
The new library was not something WH needed at all lets face it. The little library could have been expanded and saved millions but power hungry Heilman wanted to leave something behind with his stamp on it before he either dies, resigns or gets voted out of city hall. That being said the library is here and they did a nice job but not so much for the library itself. Sure the library is nice but what the library REALLY does is show case the "Pacific Design Center". It is high enough above street level that it is a marvelous view of the PDC the hills in the back round. I'm sure movies & television will make good use of this beautiful back round.
joninla September 29, 2011 at 06:59 PM
I think I kinda of share your sentiment - I am sure there is a large corrupt financing behind the new library ... But all government has its corruption problems to varying degree. My point is, if we are going to be subjugated to the power that Developers have, at least the City should 'GET SOMETHING GOOD' out of it .... AND FOR THE PEOPLE (not the council members interests, or just for the sake of wasting money like the upcoming $16 million dollar robo-garage behind City Hall). But it is a wonderful (although kinda crazy with the digital age) addition to the City ... and although I have not been inside, I am sure the views of the PDC are probably the most spectacular aspect to a $64 million dollar modern library that looks from the outside like a really nice generic office mall from the bowel of some ambiguous Orange County Office park .... built in the 1990's. I wouldn't diss the style, but for the possibilities of a $64 million dollar project at the unique and iconic PDC structure in terms of it's bold, unique, original, massive but not obtrusive and really a landmark which the new Red building is really going to enhance. I just wonder how many of the new tenants of the Red Building will look out their office window and say "WOW - what a view .... now that's a library .... like none other".... I am guessing - zero!
Oleg Kagan September 29, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Point of clarification: The library building cost 17 million dollars to build (source: http://www.weho.org/index.aspx?page=1034).
Wesley McDowell September 29, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Why hasn't anyone brought up that this is really a parking structure with a library stuck on the front? Approaching Wes Hollywood on northbound San Vicente, you only see a typical parking structure, and not an attractive one. Even the "art" is, well, I guess I just don't have an appreciation for graffiti. The other 2 sides are nice, though. Compared to the new Red Titanic and other PDC building, the library screams White Elephant. Land ahd Heilman sure do get defensive whenever anyone questions their fundraising and motives. Maybe where there's smoke, there's fire. But we had that election, and....
Chris Bray September 30, 2011 at 02:05 AM
The Los Angeles Times architecture review of the new library described it as a $35 million project. This story describes it as a $64 million project. And, as a commenter above notes, the city's website describes it as a $17 million project. It never seems to be possible to reliably get the very most basic information about our city government. With all that said, the new library is very nice, especially given the way it's integrated into Weho park. It does look like a big white blob from the outside, but it's great inside, with wonderful space to read and work. The children's room is perfect, will serve a larger population than just the 600 children who live within city limits, and occupies a small space relative to the rest of the building. The library, and the new look of the park, change the way I feel about my neighborhood -- these are enormously positive developments for people who live here. I just wish I knew how much they really cost.
niedermaier September 30, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Designing, acquisition of property, planning, implementing with repair to surrounding area (roads, etc) are costs, that when added to actual building, presumably total the difference noted in both sources...so, the building itself costs $17M and the remaining total of $47M is the balance of PROJECT cost. It sounds like a large number overall..but..in a City where parking tickets are $45. for expired meters..it sounds typical.
allegra September 30, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Even though I agree that it does look like a parking structure with a medical building pasted on the front, I am looking forward to seeing the interior. I love the art! If they’ve only raised seven Million dollars, I wonder who’s not being paid? For Oleg & Chris...This, below, is from the city website. Everything here, other than the lawn, trees & benches appears to be a part of the Library. “The cost to construct Phase I of the West Hollywood Park Master Plan which includes building the new West Hollywood Library, Public Meeting Rooms/CATV Facilities, coffee bar, parking structures and expanding 2.5 acres of park and green space at West Hollywood Park is $64 million. The specific costs for Phase I of the West Hollywood Park Master Plan are as follows: West Hollywood Library $17 million Public Meeting Rooms/CATV Facilities and Friends of the Library $ 6 million Parking Structures (400 spaces) $16 million Parkland and Expanded Green Space $ 8 million Architectural Design, Project Management, Agency-Utility fees and Inspections $ 9 million Land Acquisition and Furniture, Fixtures And Equipment $ 8 million TOTAL COST $64 million”
Oleg Kagan September 30, 2011 at 04:31 AM
@allegra Thanks for copying those numbers here. I just gave a link to the City website; I should have done what you did.
Chris Bray September 30, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Thanks for these numbers. Odd, though, to separate costs of things like "land acquisition," fixtures, and "architectural design," as though those were unrelated costs and can't be assigned to the cost of the library. Hey, how much did you new house cost? Oh, only $400,000. Plus $350,000 for the land, $75,000 for the architecture, $75,000 for the general contractor, and $25,000 for the fixtures and equipment! Anyway, it'll be nice to sit in front of the windows and read a book.
joninla October 01, 2011 at 08:50 AM
Rather than trying to get an accurate figure $17 to $64 Million - it is staggering either way - but it has been spent. The issue for discussion and debate is really about: 1. How was the decision made and budget made, reviewed, analyzed and fully considered by an independent review BEFORE the City Council voted to spend so much money. 2. However 'good' the Council Believed their decision to expend so much of the City's Resources (money, land, livability during construction, loss of autonomy to the developers who 'bought the City' for $64 Million (or whatever), time, noise etc.) The Question is WAS IT THE BEST USE OF CITY RESOURCES OR COULD THAT MONEY HAVE BEEN USED TO FULFILL A FUNDAMENTAL SHORTCOMING IN THE BASIC CHARTER AND PLAN FOR THE ENTIRE CITY? Is the City's NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS suddenly LESS IMPORTANT than an increase in the cultural ambiance of the City in General? (Personal opinions aside, the rhetoric from the Council about the NEED TO PROVIDE MORE LOW INCOME/AFFORDABLE HOUSING .... Has been going on for DECADES. If there were even the slightest sincerity to the 'go to' response to every single Resident's issues which have to be rejected because 'there is a housing crisis that comes first' - The Money Should Have Been for HOUSING. I don't think is should have been for housing, but according to the endless need to prioritize it, THE CITY COUNCIL IS BEING CALLED OUT HERE - 'Housing' is BS used to scam the Residents.
Tracy Pattin October 02, 2011 at 01:36 AM
I looked around today at all the Weho residents coming together as a community for the dedication ceremony. In my opinion this is money well spent as it offers people of all incomes and backgrounds a place to read, go online, get career counseling, bring children to their own kids library AND attend City Council meetings! My prediction is this expensive project will be well worth it. West Hollywood will be seen as a leader in building community. The only problem I have is the name...It should be called, The West Hollywood Library and Cultural Center...This building and park has made me proud to be a Wehoan.....
Paul October 02, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Yep, now more straight people will decide to move here and have children. Just what the gay community loves.(NOT)
Tracy Pattin October 02, 2011 at 02:53 AM
Hey Paul! You might want to look beyond Santa Monica BLVD and San Vicente etc...Like the Sunset Strip...WEHO is full of diversity! Lots of straight people live here...like me!!! And Russian heterosexuals, Orthodox Jewish heterosexuals....This is what I love about this city!!! Straight people have moved here and do have children...It's all about community..
Paul October 02, 2011 at 05:28 AM
Once upon a time, not all that long ago straight people would not live in West Hollywood in the designated area around the library due to the stigma attached to it. Things were better then if you ask me.It was more fun! The Russian & Jews were always here but they stay in there area beyond Fairfax. They like Plummer Park. Now single straight women move here and families. You have to figure that the AIDS crisis killed a huge part of the population of gay men and some women who lived and resided here and probably still would had they not sadly died. Some of the most creative, interesting and yes, sexy people you could ever want to meet. I thought of them today during the grand opening of the library. Brought a tear to my eye.
me October 02, 2011 at 05:30 AM
uh oh, weird....is someone drunk posting???
Ali October 03, 2011 at 11:17 PM
I read that $35 million of the project came from the Federal Gov't's Stimulus funds. So Weho didn't spend the whole amount from our City' s funds.
Ali October 03, 2011 at 11:22 PM
Once again, Paul, not true. My mother lived on Westmount for many years. Her building was full of straight people. She, may she rest in peace, used to go to the Park to swim all the time. Mothers would bring their kids to the park to play, even back in the 70's and 80's. I'm sorry, but you have tunnel vision. As long as we have been a city and even before, straight people have lived in ALL parts of WeHo and have been the majority of residents in town. Take off your blinders.
Tracy Pattin October 04, 2011 at 02:46 AM
Hey Wesley! You might want to go into the parking structure, park your car, walk into the library and the expansive outdoor park...before you judge. As they say, "You can't judge a book by it's cover"....then let me know what you think...
Tracy Pattin October 04, 2011 at 02:50 AM
Thanks "All" for your astute comments!!! LOVE IT...To all the naysayers, "TAKE OFF YOUR BLINDERS!" besides, it's just too late. The new Weho Library is here to stay. Let's all support this new cultural center and help Weho continue to "be in the black" as Mayor Duran told us at the post Labor Day city council meeting...My prediction? Wehoans will embrace this new city center. I'm proud to be a single, straight, female in this wonderful city. I hope all Wehoans feel the same.
Paul October 04, 2011 at 03:01 AM
Ali, You may have had an mother who lived here but I can tell you right now that the pool at the park was even being used for years until WH became a city. That was one of the first thing former council member Martin changed. Since WH was part of LA county a lot of thing had fallen by the waste side in respect to the park. The park had over ground shrubs and gay men would have sex in the park. There were many area gay men who liked to cruise the park for fun. It was the 70's and sex was everywhere including the PDC restrooms. AIDS changed things gradually as men started dyeing and once WH became a city that type of behavior was dealt with. It's ironic really because the location where the new library was once a HIV clinic.
Tracy Pattin October 04, 2011 at 04:16 AM
YAY! I so agree with your forward thinking A. Lee! The naysayers should just get with the program, check out some library books, maybe even volunteer at the career center and be proud to be part of such a progressive city!!!
Tracy Pattin October 04, 2011 at 04:21 AM
celebrate those who have gone on by movng forward...Let's be in the present and be proud of this community. Let's be part of the solution, not the problem and what happened yesteryear. This Library/Cultural center is about bringing people together. We really need that now...here, across the country and the world.
Oleg Kagan October 04, 2011 at 05:52 PM
@Tracy Pattin, "maybe even volunteer at the career center" -- Or the library :O) (I'm the Volunteer Coordinator at the library so I just had to throw that in there.)

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