New Adventures of Old Library

If the current debate over the Hayward library’s needs and how to pay for its expansion sounds familiar, maybe you’ve been here for a while. Here’s an article my co-blogger Karen wrote in 1998:

Utility tax would fund libraries
By Karen Holzmeister

HAYWARD – Since facts are a library’s stock in trade, here are some facts about the Hayward Library system:

Compared to prevailing standards set by the California State Library, Hayward is near the bottom in comparison with 14 other Bay Area cities which also have populations of 100,000 or more.

That’s less space, fewer operating hours, limited materials, smaller expenditures and decreased staffing.

In a nutshell, that’s also why a cross-section of Hayward residents, business operators and organizations have formed “Parents and Neighbors United for Our Libraries” to campaign for the 2 percent utility tax on the Nov. 4 ballot. (Note from the future: Ballot measure was defeated.)

If approved by two-thirds of the voters who visit the polls, the tax would raise millions of dollars over 32 years. The money could be used to build new libraries, upgrade technology, buy more books and other materials, expand operating hours and staffing, and start school and senior citizen outreach programs.

“It’s important we spend to expand the library,” said John Cavolowsky, who co-chairs the group. “This (library) facility has reached its limit. The rising population has outstripped the capacity of the city to provide the kinds of services we need.”

For example, the main library in downtown Hayward and the Weekes branch library in south Hayward total 29,500 square feet. A more realistic size for one or more library locations, given Hayward’s population and comparable library systems, is about 75,000 square feet, according to figures compiled by the city.

Although Cavolowsky describes the campaign as “low cost, grass roots” in nature, pledges are being collected to support what might be a $40,000-plus election drive. Consultants have been hired, mailings are being planned, and appearances at “Back-to-school” nights and Parent-Teacher Association meetings are being scheduled.

The tax would be paid on telephone, gas, electric, telecommunications and cable utilities. The average tax per household would average about $32 a year and the average business would pay about $280 a year, according to city estimates.

Businessman Gil Zaballos was a member of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Library Services, which studied the library for six months during 1996 before recommending the utility tax election.

“We’ve got to believe that we need to improve services in Hayward with a new library, especially given the condition of the school system,” said Zaballos, a real estate developer and investor. “Doesn’t that say a lot for Hayward? It would help to have (library) computers tied in with schools. And, in the long run, it would raise property values for all.”

The wording of the measure is designed to guarantee that all money raised by the tax –estimated at about $3million a year — will go exclusively to the library. Programs and building plans have been discussed, but there have been no commitments on specific expenditures.

As Zaballos suggested, a new main library — to replace the remodeled, 47-year-old building at 835 C St. — appears to be a given. The most likely location is in the new civic center complex at B and Watkins streets. There is space available next to the four-story City Hall now under construction, land originally envisioned as a good location for a county building.

City Manager Jesus Armas said a new revenue source, such as the utility tax, will be necessary to develop a premier library system.

The library receives about 4 percent a year out of the city’s General Fund budget, or about $2.4million for the current 1997-98 fiscal year.

Armas said it is unlikely that substantially more money can be made available to the library, despite complaints by Councilman Ron Hulteen that the council needs to reallocate resources.

“In my opinion, there is insufficient general fund revenue to both significantly increase the library budget and also avoid adversely affecting other critical municipal services,” Armas has told the council. “While there may be occasional opportunities to make modest shifts in resources, at best this represents adjustments `at the margins’ and does not provide substantive and sustained improvements to the library.”