San Diego library and rec center cuts face opposition

By Elizabeth Marie Himchak

The decimation of library and recreation center hours proposed by Mayor Jerry Sanders might not happen if the City Council finds $10.3 million in savings elsewhere.

This week the council continued going through the city’s budget to avoid cutting weekly branch library hours from 36 to 18.5 and recreation center hours from 40 to 20. Saving library hours will cost $7.4 million and recreation center hours at least $2.9 million.

Councilman Carl DeMaio, who represents Rancho Bernardo, said this was “all avoidable” had the council and mayor adopted “tens of millions” in cuts he proposed last November that included pension reform and labor contract provisions for bonus and specialty pay.

“Now we have the City Council saying it is going to use one time monies to ... fund these services,” he said. “This is not a solution. It gets us through this year, but kicks the can down the street.”

There are measures in a May 3 plan Councilman Todd Gloria announced — based on Independent Budget Analysis recommendations — DeMaio said he supports. These are expanding marketing partnerships ($500,000); eliminating management flex benefits ($1.4 million) and cell phones for non-public safety departments ($400,000); adjusting terminal leave ($400,000); and reducing overtime for non-public safety departments ($1.25 million) and information technology discretionary funding ($1.5 million).

As for adjusting the fiscal year 2012 budget to reflect revenue estimates of $3 million, DeMaio disagreed, saying the amount should be more conservative and “if the economy rebounds (any excess) should be put in the reserves.”

He opposes using $2.5 million from convention center land sale revenues and considering proposals projected to save another $4 million.

“Politics are always in play with the budget,” DeMaio said when asked if Sanders’ proposal to cut hours severely was a scare tactic.

“The city government should not be scaring kids and families about their services being on the chopping block,” DeMaio said.

If the council does not implement his plan, but enacts significant, long-term budget reforms, DeMaio said he could back an alternative plan. He said colleagues are becoming more favorable toward some reforms he wants, while others like pension reform will have to go to voters in 2012.

Marion Moss Hubbard, library spokeswoman, said if hours are cut, Rancho Bernardo and Carmel Mountain Ranch libraries would be paired for alternating days, as would Rancho Penasquitos with Scripps Ranch.

She said in fiscal year 2010 339,076 items were checked out from Rancho Bernardo Library. It had 282,650 patron visits and 96,937 accessed the Internet. At Carmel Mountain Ranch, 243,945 items were borrowed, there were 161,398 patron visits and 24,768 accessed the Internet. Rancho Penasquitos Library’s 240,806 visitors borrowed 296,570 items and 28,943 accessed the Internet.

“Overall, we had more circulation in 2010 than we ever had in our history,” Moss Hubbard said. “The library (system) is very strongly used.”

Dick Luehring, Friends of the Rancho Bernardo Library president, said during last week’s council hearing he told council members that fewer library hours will mean fewer sales through the Friends’ bookstore, which will mean less money the group can donate toward new materials and library programs.

Over the past 11 years combined, Luehring said RB Friends has given more than $225,000 to the branch and each year Friends groups citywide contribute $1 million to the library system.

Neither the Friends group or Rancho Bernardo Community Library Association, led by Arlene Cawthorne, are looking into funding additional hours.

Cawthorne said $300,000 her group has is primarily for funding needs like new bookshelves and a soon-to-occur remodel of the children’s area. The association formed in 1990 to raise funds for the current facility’s construction.

“The library is getting older and we see that we need to replace things,” Cawthorne said. “If we put the money to supplement hours, it will go pretty fast. We’re not an organization out looking for more money.”

There is precedent of the Rancho Bernardo Recreation Council funding additional staff hours at the Rancho Bernardo-Glassman Recreation Center, said Bryan Brigham, the council’s president.

“Do we have the money in our account? Yes,” Brigham said. “But there are a lot of other things (to fund too).”

If hours are cut, he said it will be up to the recreation council seated in July (Brigham is termed out) to decide if it will fund extra hours.

“We’ve taken care of a lot of things at the park knowing the city does not have the funds,” he said. These include maintenance and programs.

A Park and Recreation official said 5,000 to 7,000 use the Rancho Bernardo center monthly, mostly Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays. Impacted programs would include dance, basketball, karate, gymnastics and dodgeball. The Carmel Mountain Ranch/Sabre Springs center is used by 3,000 to 5,000 people per month. Impacted programs would be toddler music, dance, basketball and day camp (spring and summer). Peak use is Mondays to Thursdays.



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