Commentary: Santa Cruz Public Library System

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Santa Cruz County voters have long been supportive of our public library system.

On the June 7 primary ballot, most county voters will get an opportunity to show that support by voting for Measure S, a library bond measure that will raise $67 million to improve and expand library branches to provide additional space for popular community programs and to undertake long-overdue repairs to existing facilities. The tax would require property owners to pay $49.50 per parcel every year for 30 years.

The Sentinel urges a yes vote on this measure, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

The tax would provide upgrades and repairs at all 10 county branches, and would allow the system to finally build two long-sought permanent branches, as well as remodel and renovate the aging downtown branch on Church Street. The city of Capitola would finally get a modern permanent library on city-owned land, replacing the outdated, cramped modular building currently in use. Felton residents, meanwhile, who have long fought for a fully functional library, will get one, to be built on donated land, replacing a leased building that dates to 1893.

With the exception of the city of Watsonville, which has its own library system, the bond measure will bring updates to the Aptos, Boulder Creek, La Selva Beach, Live Oak, Branciforte, Garfield Park and Scotts Valley branches as well.

For instance, in Aptos, the much-used library branch would get 3,000 square feet of additional space — allowing the library to host programs for younger children and for community events not easily hosted in the current cramped and poorly laid out space. Scotts Valley would get a new roof and an upgraded homework and tutoring area for teens. Live Oak would see a library annex at Shoreline Middle School and Branciforte would see a meeting/study room restored.

Library directors also are committed to bringing modern technology to the system, which, with expanded meeting and study space, will provide services far beyond the printed, bound-book collections that were once the primary function and purpose of public libraries. But in a digital world, so much more is possible.

Both the Santa Cruz City County system and the Watsonville library are supported by city and county property and sales taxes, limited state funding, and private donations. The city-county system also benefits from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters. The city-county library system is governed by a Joint Powers Agreement among the county and cities of Santa Cruz, Capitola, and Scotts Valley. oversight is provided by a reorganized, four-person Joint Powers Board, which has financial and other responsibilities for the system and is comprised of the county chief administrative officer and the city managers representing Capitola, Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. The new board succeeds the previous nine-member board that included elected officials.

When the board was reorganized, a new library advisory commission also was created that includes registered voters from the county and the three cities. The commission gives another level of accountability to library spending and projects.
We think the changes made in governance, and the compelling case made by library staff to build new libraries and remodel, renovate and repair others should give voters confidence that the money raised by the bond measure will be spent well and spent wisely.

It’s an across-the-board, most-of-the-county project that will enable even more residents to use their public library system in even more ways. We urge a yes vote on Measure S, the library facilities initiative.