A Q&A: Cuts to libraries and rec centers

Tony Manolatos Tony Manolatos 10 Comments

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I received an email Thursday from Voice of San Diego’s City Hall reporter asking for the councilman’s position on proposed cuts to libraries and rec centers.

I had written a blog post a day earlier on San Diego Rostra that said some local reporters weren’t giving the City Council much of a say in stories about the proposed cuts. 

The email from Liam Dillon at the Voice said he was asking each council office the same questions, which resulted in a post published yesterday.

The threat of cuts to libraries and rec centers continues to gall some San Diegans, so I’m going to share each of the questions the reporter asked along with our response:

Do you believe the proposed cuts to branch library hours and recreation center hours will stay in the budget?

  • No, he does not.

If no, where should the estimated $11 million to stave them off come from?

  • The council will answer that exact question and others over the next several weeks as they work to finalize next year’s budget, which begins July 1. We’re not talking about a tremendous amount of money in a $1.1 billion budget, but the quality of life impact on working families is significant.
  • Kevin is exploring a range of ideas, including the installation of solar panels on city street lights, which could generate millions of dollars annually from the sale of clean energy to SDG&E. Kevin also wants the City to expand the use of revenue recovery auditing firms, which should be able to quickly start finding additional money owed to the City.

Also, if no, do you think there will be any cuts to library and rec center hours?

  • If it was up to Kevin, there would be no cuts to libraries, rec centers and firepits because there’s a certain quality of life he wants every San Diegan to be able to enjoy.

Will you vote for a budget that includes cuts to libraries or rec center hours?

  • Kevin does not support the proposed cuts to library and rec center hours.

The next morning I sent another email to Liam:

I forgot to mention that Kevin is in discussions with local tourism leaders and the San Diego Foundation. The talks are focused on saving the firepits from the budget ax this year and in the future: http://bit.ly/eot6Ig

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Comments 10

  1. It’s time to look at contracting out the SD city library system. Our city politicos should contact Riverside County with its 32 branch library operation (roughly the size of our city and county library systems).

    In 1998 Riverside hired LSSI to run the county’s library system. The results have been great — the Riverside County Supervisors indicate they will not be going back to govt run libraries. Other cities in California recently have made the same decision.

    Here’s the rub. The Democrats in Sacramento are trying to pass a bill making it all but impossible to contract out city and county libraries. I suspect that Vargas and Kehoe are in the forefront of this crass pro-union action.

  2. Tony,

    Last year Council Member Faulconer voted for the brownouts of fire engines even though the cost to keep them operating was similar to the cost of restoring this year’s proposed library and rec center cuts. Can it therefore be inferred that the Council Member prioritizes libraries and recreation over public safety?

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    @Alger: He voted for the brownouts at the recommendation of the Fire Chief, who has since changed his position. Kevin’s goal is to have a budget that ends the brownouts and preserves libraries and rec centers.

  4. Tony,

    Good try.

    The Fire Chief made it clear that the brownout plan was the best he could due WITH THE BUDGET HE WAS GIVEN. He also made it clear that not only wasn’t this ideal, but that it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

    Anyone can watch the tape of last year’s final Council meeting on the budget or the numerous subsequent NR&C Committee meetings where members of the public practically begged to have the fire engines restored. The Fire Chief was very clear that the Mayor and Council had set his budget and he was doing the best he could with insufficient resources.

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    @Alger: The budget process brings complexities and difficulties every year, with a final budget adopted through consensus and compromise in order to fund numerous neighborhood services vitally important to San Diegans.

    Some of that compromise results in specifics that every councilmember may not like. Brownouts were one of those difficult items last year.

    Kevin’s goal this year is to find solutions to keep that from happening again.

  6. Tony,

    I do appreciate Council Member Faulconer’s commitment to restoring the browned-out engines and to avoiding cuts in much-needed libraries and recreation centers. I just wish he would have had the same commitment last year since there were four “yes” votes each time it was brought up to end the brown-outs. Had he chosen, he could have been the fifth and deciding vote and I am sure he could have found what he is now calling “not a tremendous amount of money in a $1.1 billion budget.”

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    @Alger:

    Kevin, along with other council members, did push to end the brownouts last year: http://1.usa.gov/aImnGp

    The votes you’re talking about were to dip into the City’s rainy day fund, correct?

  8. Tony,

    On the day the budget was approved, there were at least three different proposals that would have eliminated the brownouts. Council Members Young and Hueso were absent that day and Council Members Faulconer and DeMaio voted against each proposal so there was only four “yes” votes on each.

    These votes had nothing to do with the “complexities and difficulties” of the budget process. The fact is that the politics then were different than the politics now.

    You have given three differing reasons for the Council Member’s votes last year. I don’t believe any really pass the smell test with the sophisticated Rostra readers, but it doesn’t really matter because that is all in the past. I am just glad that your boss is ready now to end the brown-outs and to fight for library and rec center hours. For that, I commend him.

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    @Alger:

    There is generally more than one reason for voting a certain way on controversial issues. That said, you’re right – all of it is in the past, and we’re also looking forward.

    Thanks for the chat. Enjoy your Sunday.

  10. Tony – how about Kevin trying to explore with the library director HOW TO PROVIDE THE SERVICES WITHIN THE PROPOSED BUDGET?

    Here is the math. The budget proposed a 31% reduction to FTEs that work in the branch system below FY 2011 numbers. However, the plan is for a 50% reduction in branch hours. Why? Because the Mayor and the Council and the grandstanders are not DEMANDING fundamental changes in the way they operate (or, if those changes can not be made, focus attention on the labor agreements and highlight those sections on workplace rules that need to change).

    Some simple steps could include limited hours for any reference services, slower reshevling periods, limited internet access since IT takes time and people, moving refernce librariance from the central library to do some battleduty out in the branches. Ditto administrators (how many hours is the chief librarian on desk duty? Zero? Well ask a small business person about how they main the cash register during emergency periods).

    The question all the council should be asking include “How many people, minimum, is it safe to have on duty and have a branch in operation?” My guess is 2, since people need breaks and you can’t really have an hourly clerk staff the library alone. But 2 should work, especially in the early AM and midday hours at most branches. You can then ramp up staffing at the end of the week to address circulation backlog.

    More broadly, Richard is precisely right. The council allowed Sanders to exempt libraries for MC without a whimper. The relevent section is that MC requires 2 or more recognized potential private sector bidders with expertise before the RFP can move fowrard. Since LSSI is a market leader and really the only game in a small emerging market, the function is excluded. Too bad. You would have had options – at the very LEAST exploring whether the current system actually is operated in an efficient way for the majority of patrons as opposed, as I fear and believe, in a way that meets someones idea that municipal libraries should be focused on research, collections, archiving and a myriad of other “nice to haves” when, instead, you are opening your branches for just 20 hours a week. We all MIGHT like special rare books collections but the vast majority of users simply want to check out a few books for their kids or use the internet to search for jobs.

    The one thing in strong mayor that I have been most deeply disappointed about is that the council refuses to conduct oversight. Guess what? With a former employee of 30 years working in the City of San Diego as CEO it shouldn’t any of us that we are not seeing true innovation in delivery from that office. As Carl has shown, bull in the china shop that he can be, the only way to really get at fundamental issues in san diego is…well…to get at fundamental issues rather than putting (I almost can’t type cause it is too funy) putting solar panels on light posts. Guess what – street lights are needed at NIGHT when you don’t have electricity and any battery technology for that strength of light is going to be inefficient and ineffective (or at least far LESS ineffective than putting up a solar farm out in the San Pasquel Valley on City Land and selling the energy back to the grid.)

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