By Ted AYALA
Funding for the Central Library’s renovation project may be heading into rocky waters and how the Glendale City Council will navigate that course remains uncertain.
At Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the city council and Successor Agency, increases in the project’s costs received close scrutiny.
The problem for the city began in 2010 when the former Redevelopment Agency issued approximately $10 million in bonds for the project – enough to cover the costs that were estimated at the time. That money, however, was placed out of reach of the city’s hands when Sacramento shuttered redevelopment agencies across the state last year, freezing and seizing monies held by them.
In the past year, the city has attempted to hold onto as much of its redevelopment funds as it could in order to continue funding projects that were already underway.
Earlier this year, the state’s Dept. of Finance allowed the city to use its 2010 bonds. But in the interim period, estimates for the library project increased by a third to $15 million.
The project would include softening the Central Library’s mid-20th century Brutalist façade with windows to increase the interior’s natural lighting, making structural upgrades, improving access for the physically disabled, and shifting its purpose to one encompassing a wider scope that would see it become a community hub rather than a traditional library. The site would also see its exterior redesigned in order to better integrate the library into the surrounding downtown area.
The exterior redesign has become crucial as the city embarks on a goal of enlivening its downtown corridor to make Glendale attractive to a younger, creative demographic that occupies much of the surrounding areas of Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and Eagle Rock. Over 2,000 new apartments and the selection of Glendale as the new home of the Museum of Neon Art are part of the overall aim to transform downtown.
The city council agreed that it was necessary to move forward with the project. But how this would occur was left open pending the return of Councilmembers Laura Friedman and Zareh Sinanyan who were absent.
“I think the downtown needs [this project],” said Councilmember Frank Quintero. “The library certainly needs it. We’ve waited long enough and it’s a missing piece of downtown. [This will] make our central park the gem it ought to be.”
Quintero also noted that he was “open” to funding for the project, expressing a preference for a combination of 2010 bond proceeds and general fund reserves to finance a renovation that he felt was “100% essential.”
Councilmember Ara Najarian said that he felt “very hesitant” about using general fund reserves to fund the project.
“That’s going to create a series of events where we’re going to have to start back-filling that reserve,” he said.
The prospect of funding the renovations via gas taxes, which are ordinarily used for the maintenance of roadways, traffic lights, and the Beeline, was no less appealing to Najarian.
“That money is used throughout the city for a multitude of projects,” he continued. “I would be willing to wait until we have a clean stream of money.”
Najarian also suggested scaling back the scope of the project in face of present economic realities.
Mayor Dave Weaver also expressed a preference for waiting on the project’s funding.
“We just went through a tough budget cycle,” he said. “We tried to balance the budget and said that we had no fat in the budget. Yet [here we are] looking at options to take out of our reserves for this, which is not a critical project. What do we tell the people of Glendale and our employees?”
Philip Lanzafame, the city’s officer for economic redevelopment and asset management, warned that the city can’t wait for an extended period of time before using its 2010 bonds.
Weaver, Quintero, and Najarian agreed to return to the matter in two weeks once the full council could be convened to discuss the issue.