San Franciscans love their libraries. In the early 1990s, however, the beloved local institutions were threatened by citywide budget woes that caused politicians to cut staff and shrink library hours and services. In 1994, voters passed Proposition E, a charter amendment that created the Library Preservation Fund and established a guaranteed level of funding every year based on a percentage of property tax and other city revenues, as a way to protect libraries from the vagaries of municipal budgets and City Hall politics.
Prop. E is scheduled to expire next year. A new measure on next month’s municipal ballot, Proposition D, would extend the Library Preservation Fund for an additional 15 years and give city officials freedom to use part of the fund to pay for new construction and renovation of branch libraries. Voters should support Prop. D to ensure that libraries continue to thrive in San Francisco.
It’s easy to see how enamored San Franciscans are of their libraries. Whether it is the Main Library or one of the 27 branches, popping in at nearly any time of day reveals a vibrant, evolving institution that serves multiple and necessary purposes in its community. For schoolchildren coming in after class to do homework, seniors perusing shelves and examining periodicals, and residents taking advantage of the increasing technological opportunities available, libraries serve as crucial community centers. They are clean, safe, well-run and welcoming. It is no wonder that 4 million peoplevisited them last year.
Prop. D will do right by the libraries. It requires the maintenance of the same elevated funding levels we have had since the passage of the original LPF in 1994, which resulted in a healthy expansion of hours, services and staff.
The ability to finance new construction and renovation represents the main difference in the extension of the preservation fund. Part of the impetus for Prop. D is to complete the $106 million branch renovation program approved by voters in 2000. That program ran out of money before many of the promised projects were completed, partly through rising construction costs and cumbersome city contracting procedures and partly through lack of fiscal oversight on the part of library officials.
Prop. D offers safeguards for taxpayers in that it does not raise taxes and requires the consent of the mayor and the Board of Supervisors before any capital projects can be undertaken. Most importantly, the measure makes clear that any debt incurred from construction and renovation can only be repaid from the growth of the preservation fund above last year’s baseline amount, meaning that building projects would not eat into the current funding for books, staff and hours.
Prop. D is a solid plan to make The City’s outstanding libraries even better. We recommend a “yes” vote.