Editor: While repairs are going on, Ragster Anna Daniels looks into the funding for the new roof on the OB Library. About two weeks behind schedule, the re-opening of the Ocean Beach branch will now be around the first of March.
It all started with a forwarded email which expressed shock that the OB Library’s Spanish barrel tile roof had recently been replaced with crappy looking shingles. I sat here in City Heights and conjured up the image of the Ocean Beach library where supporters have protested potential budgets far too many times in the past four years. What a crime to sacrifice the architectural integrity of the building to a badly needed new roof done on the cheap!
I immediately called library administration to get the story on this. According to the spokesperson, the old wood shake roof has been replaced by custom composite tile. I had “mis-remembered” a Spanish barrel tile roof and so did others! This custom tile maintains the same “look” but provides fire retardant capabilities that the shake roof didn’t.
End of story? Not quite. I asked about the funding source for the new roof and was surprised to learn that there were multiple sources, which included building maintenance funds, a donation from the OB Friends of the Library and a contribution from Kevin Faulconer’s council office.
Why is the City depending upon volunteers who raise funds for the library by selling books for fifty cents or a buck each and the largesse of the council office to maintain the physical safety and habitability of a building that carries out one of its core functions?
The Library homepage describes the role of the Friends of the Library as
…a group of volunteers who support the Library and its services and programs through various activities, including fund raising events, volunteer support, programming support, book sales, and in other ways.
The main function of these groups is clearly to enhance the basic services and programs provided throughout the system. I spoke to a few retired branch managers and learned that while it was not common to use the donations for physical maintenance or improvements, it is not strictly precluded.
But here’s the rub- the City of San Diego has a dollar for dollar matching fund for those Friends donations, but they can only be spent on equipment and materials. This is a tremendous leveraging capability for the Friends. I have no idea how much the OB Friends of the library donated for the roof, but if it were say a thousand dollars, that donation would receive a thousand dollar City match for material purchases. It receives no match however for the roof. What a tremendous waste of all those hours spent by volunteers every weekend raising money in literally fifty cent increments.
The City of San Diego is clearly years behind in road maintenance. It is also years behind on deferred maintenance of its facilities. And the City has slowly and inexorably been strangling funding to our library system. The yearly budget circus includes the possibility of closing branch libraries and reducing hours or both. Library supporters have not permitted the closures while losing on the reduction of hours.
Every year since 2006 the library budget has been reduced and the impacts are not as clearly delineated as with outright closures or reductions in hours. Our council representatives can publicly go on record that they voted against closures, but they still extract hundreds of thousands of dollars from the library budget each funding cycle. That pernicious process becomes obvious when the funds are insufficient to replace the OB library roof.
Budget season is approaching, and we might want to keep that point in mind.