Yes- it is “déjà vu all over again.” This time last year Mayor Sanders proposed closing 7 branch libraries, including Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach responded immediately. Ocean Beach responded unequivocally- DO NOT CLOSE OUR LIBRARY! A number of you were even willing to participate in non-violent civil disobedience by forming a human chain around your library in the event of closure.
Your response so inspired and encouraged me personally that I became involved with a city-wide effort to rally all of the communities against the closure of the other 6 branch libraries. We mobilized quickly, acted in unity and we won. Read about it here and feel very, very good. Just don’t feel so good that you think you should bow your collective heads to this year’s proposed library cuts. That would be so not-OB.
We all agree that the economy is in the tank. The city’s revenues do not cover the budgeted expenditures. The mayor is once again proposing budget adjustments to lessen the impact of the shortfall on next year’s budget. I am not criticizing him for that.
I am criticizing our mayor for submitting a budget amendment that violates his own “guiding principles.” While he states that he would “distribute the ‘pain’ equally” among all of the General Fund departments, his proposed cuts for our libraries are excessive. Think a number 10 on the pain chart. The U-T broke down the ‘pain’ by General Fund department in a series of charts.
What is the Library department’s share of the pain? How about a 10% cut of its operating budget. How equitable is that? It is so disproportionate that it should have you emailing the mayor right now. The budgets of Police, Park & Rec and Environmental Services (Trash) are reduced 3%. Planning is 5%. General Services (Street Repairs) and Fire are cut 7%. The Library’s budget is cut a whopping 10%.
Staff reductions are also a part of the budget adjustment. The Library department is being asked to cut staff by 14%. How equitable is that? General Services is 1%, Environmental Services is 2.6%, Park&Rec is 3.7%, Fire is 5.1%, Planning is 5.6% and Police is 9.5%. The Library cut is so disproportionate that you should be emailing the mayor and your council rep right now. 14%! This is on top of all the other staff cuts in prior years- 37.6 in 2007 alone. Evidently all animals are equal and some animals are more equal, as George Orwell noted in Animal Farm.
The disproportionate cuts to our library system should be enough to get our shorts in a bunch. But there is more. As they say the devil-and I would add the mayor- is in the details. Here’s the language used to describe the “pairing of 16 branches” in the mayor’s proposal. “The pairing of branches will create a 36-hour, Tuesday through Saturday schedule, reducing the number of open days from six per week to five per week.”
Do you understand what that means? I don’t. Suzi More, OB Library Friends president, translated this utterly incomprehensible statement for us, based on her prior meeting with the mayor. “Unfortunately, the only way that the 27% cut will be able to be made will be to “pair” libraries and keep each open three days a week, sharing staff. All libraries would close on Sundays except the ones that have special private funding (Pt. Loma is one of them).”
Why is the mayor singling out our libraries, which are so valued, so heavily used, and so woven into the life of our unique communities? Because he thinks he can pull it off! He is trying to pull it off with misleading, confusing language that the public cannot understand. He is counting on this female dominated profession to quietly submit to onerous cuts because they and what they do are of lesser value in the big scheme of things. He is counting on the neediest among us to remain voiceless, invisible and outside of the democratic process.
So OB and all of the other paired locations will be open 3 days every week sometime between Tuesday and Saturday. Is that acceptable to you? Do you think the mayor is providing us with the full budget implications? Uppity women, freaks and politicos- are you going to be silent and invisible? I say “Hell no!”
What can we do?
- Ask that a sign be posted on EVERY library location, this week, that clearly states the proposed schedule changes- how many days the library will be open and how many hours. The sign should provide information on the upcoming public hearings and how to contact city officials.
- Advocate against any reduction of hours and against any staff layoffs. Hours will not be added back when times get better. Once the staff is gone and the positions eliminated, there will be no additional hours on Jerry’s watch. Libraries cannot operate without staff. It is as simple as that.
- Think about a reasonable compromise that is in line with the percentage of reductions in the other departments. The library currently has 29.26 vacant positions. I would reluctantly agree to the elimination of those positions. It will decimate the department’s ability to provide a core city service if any more positions are eliminated.
The Ocean Beach library has not had a permanent librarian for a number of months. Many of the same libraries up for closure last year are in this same situation. Interesting, isn’t it… Substitute librarians and other library staff are rotating through. I am cynical enough to believe that this is being purposely done so that the current staff cannot establish itself within a community, get to know teachers, your kid’s name and your reading tastes. Our libraries are being undermined in their seminal community role because the mayor sees strong, informed communities as a political threat.
We are not powerless. Ocean Beach. University Community. Mission Hills. Kensington. Paradise Hills. Oak Park. Scripps Ranch. Clairemont. Allied Gardens. North Clairemont. University Heights. Skyline Hills. Beckwourth. Carmel Mountain. Linda Vista. Tierrasanta.
We are not powerless. We know what to do. NO REDUCTION OF LIBRARY HOURS. NO STAFF LAYOFFS.