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Year in Review: Library vote draws thunderous criticism

Year in review: Santa Clarita City Council’s summertime decision to form own library system still un

Posted: December 23, 2010 9:44 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

 

Editor’s note: Second in an occasional series on major Santa Clarita Valley stories of 2010.

The city’s August decision to create a division to operate the three libraries within Santa Clarita city limits resulted in lawsuits, finger-pointing and other fallout that lingers yet.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted 4-1 to secede from the Los Angeles County Public Library system and create its own library division starting July 1, 2011.

A private firm, Library Systems & Services LLC, or LSSI, will run the Newhall, Valencia and Canyon Country Jo Anne Darcy libraries.

The City Council took the vote after hours of public testimony, mostly from patrons and employees who did not want the change to take place.

City officials said the writing was on the wall. For years, they have battled with the county over boosting services and space for the growing Santa Clarita Valley, to no avail.

The move, they say, will allow them to boost local library services and facilities in coming years, in contrast to the county library system’s dwindling hours and services.

“The cracks are forming,” Mayor Marsha McLean said in defense of the decision.

City managers say the city will save $400,000 a year by running the libraries itself.

The city plans to keep each library open 10 more hours every week and spend $100,000 more a year than the county did — $550,000 total — on library materials.

Further, the city said once it pays off its startup debt, it will have money to pay for facility improvements — like paying off the redevelopment bond that’s being used to build the $25-million, 30,000-square-foot Newhall Library.

Not everyone believes the city’s rosy forecast. Many residents are concerned that the change would give up too much of what they loved about county libraries: the staff, the programs and the easy-to-access collection of 7 million books.

Councilman Bob Kellar voted against the move, saying that despite LSSI’s robust presentation during the August council meeting, there were many questions remaining and it was too soon to make a decision.

Many library patrons and employees came together against the move, signing petitions, picketing and filing lawsuits against the city.

But the city has moved forward undeterred with an estimated $8-million startup plan.

A chunk of the startup costs were handed to the county last month when the city and county reached a compromise in a rift over an expansion project at the Canyon Country library.

The county halted construction shortly after the City Council took its vote. After some wrangling between the two governmental agencies, they penned an agreement that the city would foot the cost to finish the library and pay back the county for part of the already-finished portion. The total handed to the county: $600,000.

And then there are the lawsuits. Three lawsuits were filed against the city in county courts that revolve around the library takeover.

One lawsuit was dismissed Dec. 21; the other two were consolidated.

Next year, the city has its work cut out for it. City officials must negotiate the possible purchases of the Valencia and Newhall libraries and the contents of all three libraries as well as develop a strategic plan via the Citizens Public Library Advisory Committee, which has more than 30 members.

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