“It’s great that you heard us about our library, Mayor Sanders, just don’t pit us against the unions.”

by on April 14, 2009 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Labor, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

Mayor Jerry Sanders at podium in front of the cameras, Councilmember Kevin Faulconer at his right, with community members, OB branch library, April 14, 2009. PHOTO: Frank Gormlie

OCEAN BEACH, CA.   As expected, Mayor Jerry Sanders held a press conference this morning in front of the Ocean Beach library. And as expected, Mayor Sanders announced that in his new city budget proposal, no libraries or library services will be cut for this year’s budget.

“We heard you, Ocean Beach,” the Mayor said. “There will be no library cuts.” The crowd applauded.  The Friends of the San Diego Library along with their OB affiliate had advertised the press conference and asked library supporters to come out to applaud the Mayor, and they did.

Under gray skies, we gathered and waited and listened to our elected leaders celebrate. We were the ones who had saved the OB Library, and it was a great day for Ocean Beach.  We have won – we saved our library – and all the others as well.

This is one of the rallies from November that Mayor Jerry Sanders heard about. Nov. 15, 2008. PHOTO: Patty Jones

There were representatives there from all OB’s civic organizations: the Friends of the OB Library – with Suzi More, its president, very visible in the early days trying to save the OB branch, along with Pat James, head of the OB Historical Society, one of the main organizers last Fall; I was there representing the OB Rag blog – we were also very visible in those early days of being a “hotbed of protest “; George Murphy was there, as a Planning Board member.  And there were folks from the OB Town Council, including Jim Musgrove, its president, Mike Akey and Dennie Knox and others from the Mainstreet Association.  Stalwarts of the Historical Society showed up including Carol Bowers, Mary Springfield, and Ned Titlow.

Our Councilmember Kevin Faulconer was there, of course, as he had been very receptive to our chants of “Save the library!” back last November. When he spoke he thanked most of the leaders of the OB groups who were there by name.

The Mayor wanted this: he wanted a bevy of community leaders and people to surround him this morning as he made his announcement in front of the cameras. Why?

In his Office press statement – handed out before the event – it read:

Mayor Jerry Sanders was joined by library supporters and community members of the Ocean Beach Branch Library today to lay out the stakes in this afternoon’s labor impasse hearing before City Council.

The “Fact Sheet” went on:

To address a $60 million deficit, the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 includes a 6 percent reduction in the overall compensation of the city’s approximately 10,500 employees.  This will be achieved through wage reductions as well as decreasing the portion the city covers of employee health care, retirement and other employment benefits.

Without those compensation concessions, however, about $30 million in savings will have to come from job and service cuts.

The last paragraph flatly stated:

The city and the unions reached impasse last week: the City Council is expected to conduct an impasse hearing today at which they can impose the necessary concessions to maintain city services.

So, that’s it.  Our Library is saved and no service cuts, but the librarians have to take a 6% cut in pay and benefits. The Unions are balking of course. They’re doing their job.

The Mayor explained: he was expecting an impasse to be declared today, an impasse in contract negotiations with all the five city worker unions. That will allow him and the Council to mandate employee conditions. So, naturally, he wants to show a ‘united front’ of himself and community members holding the line against library cuts facing off with the unions that his negotiators are sitting down with right now.

I mentioned this angle to a number of library supporters milling around before the press conference started. They were in general agreement that we – the community members – did not want to be pitted against the unions.  But, we didn’t get a chance to make that point, as once Sanders, Faulconer and Judy Harris of the Library Foundation had spoken, it was over, and Sanders was soon surrounded by media.

You should have seen the media there. There must have been eight television cameras. And of course with each camera, there’s at least 2 or 3 people. There were nearly as many media present as community members. It was great coverage. Today.

Yet, during our couple of rallies in protest of the library closure last Fall, we hardly saw any cameras. The media can be such a fair weather friend.

Come to think about it, we didn’t see some of these community leaders either.  I remember people asking months ago after the Historical Society, the Friends of the OB Library and the OB Rag blog had organized a series of rallies in front of the library, where were the merchants?  Where is the Mainstreet Association? Individual businesspeople were supportive, like Peoples Food, Falling Sky Pottery, Denny Knox, Dog Beach Dog Wash, the Kleins, but as a group, as a force, as a class – the merchants failed to step up to the plate when it looked like the Mayor was going to close our branch.  In contrast, in other communities whose libraries were on the chopping block, merchants had come out and offered material support to the library protesters.

And let’s not forget, either, that it was the mayor who wanted to close our library.  I told Gerry Braun – now on the mayor’s staff and formerly a wonderful columnist with the Union-Tribune, – when we crossed paths inside the Library this morning before the press thing, to get a good look around.

As if on cue, these kids emerged from the library just as the mayor was winding up his press conference. They had been attending a storybook reading inside the library.

It was packed.  Thirty small children sat listening to stories in the west wing of the library. In the east wing, the tables were solid, and there were lines for the computers.  People were backed up at the counter.  Get a good look around. This is a place the mayor wanted to close 6 months ago.

I commented to a library volunteer, that wasn’t it a great day, you know, with the mayor, and the media, and the announcement of no closures or cuts in services.  “Yeah,” he muttered, “the day the librarians get a 6% pay cut. A great day.”

It’s true. It’s a great day. And it’s great that you heard us, Mayor Sanders, about not closing the libraries. But you know what, just don’t pit us against the unions who represent our city workers. Don’t pit the communities against the unions. No, we’re better than that.

For the perspective of one of the unions that are bargaining with the City, go here.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie April 14, 2009 at 12:10 pm

It was a dumb idea to even talk about closing the libraries. Get everybody all worked up and have them go to council meetings and plead to keep the library and rec center open and take away from the real issues that burden our city and taxpayers….HUGE PENSIONS and lots of contracts for independent consultants and high paid city jobs. What I wish my Mayor would have done is to get rid of a body guard or two, immediately cut everyone’s salary that makes more that 100K in the city and then maybe if would be justified in talking about cutting the very services everyday people want, need and enjoy. So I don’t hold Jerry in high regard for his action(S)because it NEVER should have come to this. Guess I sound a little teed off huh? Plus, now Mr. Sanders is collecting his salary and his pension….he salary could have paid for keeping our library. Maybe Jerry can step down as Mayor and go take a job with the Padres making bigger bucks since he needs the money so bad and then….DONNA FRYE FOR MAYOR …if wishes could only come true!


annagrace April 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Thanks for the great coverage, Frank. This was a great photo op for the mayor to say that he has heard the citizens loud and clear. No library closures, no reduced hours, no staff reductions. The ONLY obstacle to giving the citizens what they want is the unionized workforce. Not too hard to figure out who the good guy and the bad guys are, is it?

I am a member of the MEA union, and while I cannot speak for the concessions granted by the other bargaining units, the record should show that “the MEA is prepared to sign a contract for one or two years which gives the City every dollar in concessions the City has asked from MEA represented employees in order to help us all survive this recession. The dollar amount of these concessions for FY10 totals $14,622,946. This represents one-year worth of concession $8,932,000–straight out of the compensation of MEA represented employees who are paid by the General Fund, and results in a windfall to the City of another $5,690,946 when the concessions of MEA-represented employees paid from sources other than the General Fund are taken into account because these employees will endure the same take-aways despite the lack of savings to the General Fund.” (Note- not all City Departments are supported through the General Fund. Libraries, Park and Rec, Fire and Police are. Our union represents workers from both General Fund and non-General Fund Departments.)
The sticking point is the Retiree Medical Benefits issue which “presents a significant challenge which requires more time for a rational resolution in light of the long history and legal protections surrounding this benefit.” The quoted lines are from a 4/13 MEA press release.

So the truth is that we are willing to do our part in closing the budget deficit ; and the City would be getting an extra $5 million dollars from MEA employees working in non-General Fund departments.

I will post the full press release from our union.
OB- your energy and commitment continues to inspire.


Denny Knox, Executive Director of OBMA April 14, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Come on Frank! The OB MainStreet Association has always been supportive of our Library and Rec Center. At the last budget crisis our merchants were calling the Councilman’s office and the Mayor’s office telling them of their concerns. You may have forgotten that the vast majority of our merchants are also residents and may act on both fronts. So sometimes your assumptions are just that!
Personally, I applaud the Mayor for looking out for the future of San Diego and not burdening the citizens with obligations they can’t possibly meet now or in the future. I have read as much of the budget as I could get through since yesterday and it is a near impossible task . . . to come up with a budget that harms no one and pacifies everyone. I understand the role of unions however I hope that they will stay at the bargaining table until the budget is as good as it can get!
By the way, we know and appreciate many of the City employees who we interact with on a regular basis. Like the private sector, it is hard for anyone to take a reduction in benefits but in the end if you still have your job in an economy like this one . . . life is infinitely better than if you were jobless.


Frank Gormlie April 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Denny, I know you have personally supported the library, and sure, we all “love our library”. But in public displays of protest against the library’s closure, the OBMA was not present. I know, I was there. If members were making calls behind the scenes – that’s great – and we applaud those efforts as well.

Like I said, individual merchants stepped forward when the crunch seemed to be coming, but as a class of small capitalists and as an organized group, Ocean Beach’s merchants were MIA.


lane tobias April 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm

its never quite as it seems with high ranking city officials. I dont think, however, that the unions in this city will put the weight of an impasse over compensation concessions on activists in OB. PR was the main goal here, and it seems like the angle taken by the Mayor did more to damage his reputation amongst informed citizens(like the Rag community) than to strengthen his stance in budget negotiations that will probably result in a compromise anyway. Way to rain on our parade Mr. Mayor.


Frank Gormlie April 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I posted the following on another article’s comments:

Hey, don’t get me wrong, … there are lots of good OBMA members and other merchants and businesspeople in OB. (Merchants on Voltaire are not in OBMA I think – could be wrong.) My uncle Frank Webber owned the OB Camera store on Newport for decades. My mother worked there fulltime after my old man lost his job at Convair, and I also worked there at the Camera store during summers and at Christmas.

There are lots of good-hearted merchants in OB. They are hardworking people. Some of them have disappeared however due to high rents on Newport. Remember Paras bookstore? Gary and his wonderful, smelly pet store?

Merchants in a community like OB are very important. It’s often the businesses that give a “look” to the community – it’s where the community gets its identity. Yup, even the vacant storefronts on Newport give our neighborhood a certain identity. But the role that small businesses play is guided by their self-interests. When the businesses are at their best, they realize that something like the local library is very important to the health of the community, its continuation is in their self-interests, and they would do something to support the public facility. Here, in OB’s case, the OBMA as a group did not do anything to support the library when it was on the cutting block.

The point is not to continue to wag our finger at the merchants, but to get them to realize that they need to step up to something like the library, and not to just keep holding events to make money for their organization. We need the OBMA – and they need us – their customers.

We say to the merchants: Just do the right thing.


PSD April 14, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Well I certainly see the light the mayor was trying to frame his announcement in, and it flat out sucks.

But as far as taking pay cuts, I’ve got to agree with it – provided the city executives are taking equal (or greater) cuts themselves. I work in the private sector and have narrowly dodged a couple rounds of layoffs. If I was asked to take a 6% reduction or face losing some of my staff (or my own job), I’d probably suck it up and be thankful for a job in these down times, hoping when we get to the other side of the storm I could make it up. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be watching like a hawk to make sure everyone was contributing equally to the sacrifice to keep the whole ship afloat.

Maybe I’m just naive…


Frank Gormlie April 14, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Sanders did announce that he and his staff – everyone – was taking a 6% cut. ‘Course, 6% to someone who makes over $180K looks a little different to someone making $42K.


annagrace April 14, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Let me give you an idea of the salaries of our MEA represented employees in the library department. This is straight from the Mayor’s budget proposal: Library aides- the folks who shelve and maintain the books get $24K; a Library clerk, who checks out your books, gives you a library card, & answers some of your questions gets $38K; your branch manager librarian makes $66K. Many of us work part time by choice, and others work part time because the only positions available in a classification are part time. There a lot of part time people in our department, and as I said, many want full time positions. The budget will be balanced through the salary & benefit concessions of these people.
Now there is another group of employees in the department in upper management who are not union represented. As “unclassified” workers, they get not only higher salaries ($144K for the Director; $113K for the Deputy Directors) they get all of our negotiated benefits and MORE. Much more. While I read that the mayor and his staff will take a 6% cut, I did not hear that upper level management across all departments will also take a 6% cut. I will correct my posting immediately if this is the case, but until then…
All animals are equal and some animals are more equal.


Frank Gormlie April 15, 2009 at 10:45 am

Okay, okay, I was wrong – there was only 7 cameras – not 8.


emw April 15, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Ugh… Yeah, I am one of the library clerks Anna spoke of… I’m sure it’s going to help the city so much to have that 6% of my $38K a year. It’s going to be a tough year.

Don’t forget to show your love for your local library employees! Actually, if you get great service from any city employee, it’d be great if you could acknowledge it by telling their supervisors (or mayor)!


lane tobias April 22, 2009 at 9:46 am

in today’s UT, there is an article where Ben Hueso makes a statement similar to that of Mayor Sanders’ assertions about pay cuts allowing the entire city to enjoy libraries, parks, rec centers, and beaches.


I think its in poor taste to continue to push that angle. It would be more appropriate to just thank the unions for concessions that allow the budget gap to be closed. Period.

I do have to say though, it is an enormous gesture on the part of city employees to take pay cuts…as a non-union social worker at a non-profit organization, I know how it feels to barely make enough money to get by. I guess we are lucky to have jobs?


annagrace April 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Just an FYI. I voted this morning to approve our MEA union two year contract. The results aren’t in but I suspect it will pass. It includes over one week of mandatory unpaid furlough, a 3% pay reduction or an equal reduction in our supplemental pension. (Note: City workers don’t receive Social Security. We get a defined retirement benefit through the City and a supplemental pension. We pay into both and have always paid into both. The City has provided match on the supplemental pension and also pays into our retirement.) Needless to say, there are no salary or benefit increases during this two year period.

The unclassified, non-union represented staff will also take a 6% cut. These are high level administrative positions in the departments. I raised this issue in an earlier posting and promised to clarify this point.

Having a job is indeed a good thing. Avoiding layoffs of productive people is also a good thing. Now we shall see what happens in the weeks and months ahead… The budget process is not over. The IBA (office of Independent Budget Analysis) will release its report, the City Council will hold public hearings on the budget (the Mayor has thus far presented his proposed budget)and the end result may or may not be what we’ve seen so far.

Lane has picked up on an important point-the portrayal of salaries and benefits of City workers as the “obstacle” to keeping police and fire service and parks and rec and libraries open.

To put this in perspective, the total City budget is $3.01 BILLION. http://www.sandiego.gov/fm/proposed/ The General Fund budget supports Police (36.3% of proposed budget), Public Works (18.8%), Fire-Rescue(17.5%), Park and Rec (7.7%) and Libraries (3.3% DEAD LAST. As usual). The General Fund Budget totals $1.15 BILLION. It also includes Office of the ASSISTANT Chief Operating Officer (2.75%- not much less than a 35 branch library system!), Office of the Mayor and Chief Operating Officer, Office of the Chief of Staff, Office of Homeland Security and Public Utilities. So many Chiefs and so few… …well…you know. Most of us get involved on General Fund issues. Park & Rec. Libraries. Police. Fire. Streets. From the citizen’s perspective, this is where the rubber hits the road.

These are “labor intensive” departments. Think lifeguards, police, fire-rescue, the person who provides story time to your kids, repairs broken pipes in your street. These are human beings. Which is to say you simply can’t have a facility or a piece of equipment- a fire truck, a life guard station, a library, a recreation center, a patrol car or a trash truck without human beings providing those services. These services are not volunteer operated and people do and should get paid.

There is a whole other part to the budget, which includes $1.38 BILLION for the City’s Enterprise Fund and $480.7 Million for Capital Improvements.

I hope you are asking- “Gee, what are Enterprise Funds?” If you are, you get extra civic points. These funds are intended to be fully self-supporting and include Water, MetroWastewater, Development Services, Refuse Disposal and Recycling. Did you say “DUH?” I’m with you. I will continue on this topic at a later date…

Here’s a link to A Citizens’ guide to the budget provided by the Office of Independent Budget Analysis (IBA) http://www.sandiego.gov/iba/pdf/bpguide.pdf This office is truly the citizen’s friend.

Thanks to all of you who have supported City workers and union efforts.


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