by Peter Warfield
Proposition D, titled “renewing Library Preservation Fund,” actually hurts the things we want most in our libraries: good book collections, services, and open hours.
Proposition D raids funds reserved for those uses, and spends them to bail out the Library’s mismanaged construction program. And it severely reduces public oversight.
The Library Preservation Fund was created by the voters in 1994 to ensure good funding for library operations. It was to be kept “separate and apart from” the rest of the Library budget and spent only on operations, with a priority on increasing hours and acquiring books. Prop. D repeals the Fund two years early, and allows the monies to be drained away for other purposes – including construction and “any lawful purpose” the Library Commission decides. That may be good for contractors and architects, but it is not good for library users.
In the future under Proposition D, voters would not be asked. Library bonds, now requiring a 2/3 majority vote, could be issued by the Supervisors and the Mayor.
Why would city officials and Friends of the Library propose an end run around the voters? Because they know they probably cannot win such a vote. The library has not fulfilled its promises on previous measures. Construction promised in another recent bond measure is years behind schedule and tens of millions over budget. They are calling these new Prop D debts “revenue bonds”, but they generate no new revenue. And every penny of library income above last year’s, could be used to repay these construction bonds. This means funding for operations could be frozen for the 15-year life of this measure.
We are asked to trust the Library. But look at the record:
**Prop A, (1988, $109 million) promised room for 20 years of collection growth at the new Main. But the shelves of the new Main were full on opening day, and city-paid consultants recommended $28 million in fixes. Money for promised Branch library improvements ran out long before the job was done. Prop. E (1994) promised increased hours, acquisitions, and services. But hours increased just once, in 1995, even though Proposition E quadrupled the library budget. New books got 15% of the 1995 budget, but this year received only 11% of the budget.
Proposition A in 2000 ($106 million) promised 24 branch libraries would be improved. But seven years later, the library has only finished six projects, and says the money will run out before the job is completed. A recent City Controller’s report criticized Library management for delays and cost overruns.
Now again, we are being asked to forgive and forget, and to write another blank check. This time, the voters should say “NO” to Proposition D in order to preserve the funding for library operations, books, and open hours.
Proposition D’s proponents claim this is our last, best chance to improve our libraries. But the existing Library Preservation Fund is good until 2009. There is no need for any measure now. If the library wants to finish the branch library improvements, it can ask the Board of Supervisors for money, or ask the voters to pass another bond.
Proposition D is bad for libraries.
Vote “NO” on Proposition D.
(Peter Warfield is co-founder and Executive Director of Library Users Association).