Library supporters look to voters to help upgrade aging buildings
SACRAMENTO (AP) – The library in the Orange County city of Tustin remains stuck in the 1970s.
Its librarians say there are too many books for its shelves, children compete for spaces to read, and its Internet connection is painfully slow.
A statewide initiative on the June 6 primary election ballot would help solve many of those problems. The Tustin library is among dozens of libraries throughout the state that could receive some of the $600 million in grants that would be made available if voters approve Proposition 81.
Supporters include local governments and school districts. They say too many libraries are outdated and strapped for resources.
“Libraries are part of a community’s infrastructure,” said Ann Cousineau, director of library services at the Solano County library.
But critics question whether taking on more state debt is an economically wise strategy and note that voters approved $350 million for library construction six years ago.
Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, who opposed the initiative when the Legislature placed it on the ballot, said lawmakers should allocate money for libraries out of the annual state budget rather than accumulating bond debt for the next 30 years. The bond would cost taxpayers $1.2 billion with interest.
“Right now, we are looking at a $3 billion surplus,” he said. “We don’t need to borrow the money.”
Taxpayer groups say paying interest on a bond is not the way to build libraries.
“The bond capacity of California should be focused on public safety,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “As good as libraries are, they are no good if they are under water.”
The reference was in regard to California’s hundreds of miles of aging levees, which state officials say are dangerously weak in certain areas. Part of a massive public works bond package the Legislature approved for the November ballot would provide $4.1 billion to repair levees and upgrade other flood-control systems.
In 2000, voters approved $350 million in bond sales for libraries, money that was divided into grants for 45 libraries that submitted applications. Another 60 projects were turned away after the money dried up.
Library backers say a bond is their best chance to secure funding in a state where library funding often is pushed to the bottom of budgeting priorities.
A March survey by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 50 percent of registered voters supported the library bond, with 41 percent opposed. The rest were undecided. It is one of two initiatives on the June primary ballot. The other, Proposition 82, would boost taxes on the wealthy to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds.
Tustin is among the entities planning to make another bid for a grant should voters approve the $600 million library bond. As a former applicant, the city stands a good chance of winning a share of the bond money, half of which would be reserved for the 2000 applicants.
The city is home to a 1970s-era library that was built to serve 12,000 patrons and is struggling to provide training, computers and books to a diverse population that has grown to more than 100,000.
“We need a bigger building. We’re kind of cramped in here,” said Emily Moore, branch manager at the Tustin Library.
The city paid $6 million to double the size of its library but needs money to build a planned $21 million state-of-the-art building, assistant city manager Christine Shingleton said.
If the bond passes, the grant money could be used to build new libraries, expand or renovate existing ones, or buy land, furniture and equipment. It could not be used to pay for books, administrative costs, financing fees or operating costs.
At least $25 million would be earmarked for “joint use” projects that serve libraries and schools. Local governments must match 35 percent of the project cost.
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