Every year around this time, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council hold a series of public meetings regarding our city’s budget, which the council must pass it before the summer “recess” in July. The past few years our city budget process has been very contentious, as Mayor Reed has waged a war against city employees due to the administration’s inadequate funding of city employee contracts and pension obligations. That has directly, and negatively, affected the level of services provided to neighborhoods. Our community literally took to the streets and marched to City Hall protesting cuts to senior and youth centers. In the end, community centers were contracted out to local nonprofits. City employee jobs, library services, new city projects, and park maintenance efforts were all victims of budget cuts.
A couple of weeks ago at the District 3 budget hearing, many of our residents gave suggestions and ideas about the impact of this year’s budget. One of the hot issues that caught residents’ attention is the fate of public libraries. Did you know that your local neighborhood library might be closed on Fridays or Saturdays? All of our branches are only open four days out of the week. Some are open Monday-Thursday and others only Wednesday-Saturday. Heres is the full list of libraries.
Libraries, like Joyce Ellington Library or the Biblioteca Latino Americana, are only open Monday-Thursday. Both of these libraries are located in underserved neighborhoods. As a child, I loved going to my local library with my sister and cousin. We would read and make new friends. Our librarians were our heroes.
Our libraries continue to be a safe haven for children and youth. Having these libraries opened on a Friday and Saturday will be as beneficial to struggling neighborhoods, as they were to past generations. We want youth to utilize our library services, not our county jail system to become yet another sad statistic.
Malissa Magallanez of “Friends of Joyce Ellington” and members like Ana Ramirez of “Amigos de la Biblioteca” suggest changes to our current library schedule. These volunteer organizations deeply care for their branches. They help raise money from book sales to bake sales, and they have other creative fundraising methods. Magallanez elaborated: “Our City needs to find a way so that all branches are open on Saturday. This year’s budget will help us and we can finally reevaluate the ‘buddy schedule’ put in place years ago. That schedule is no longer working.” Magallanez and other members of the community are not asking to add more library days. We know the city will not be able to afford it. Our community suggests that we should keep the four-day schedules intact, but all libraries should be opened on weekends.
We hope the Library Commission and the council work towards this goal in this year’s budget. Reevaluating library schedules will help our communities all across our great city, like the Northside and Washington neighborhoods, which have suffered the brunt of the budget cuts these past few years. These neighborhoods need more services for our youth, not less, and libraries open up those possibilities for them.
Libraries should be a top priority for the mayor and council because our children’s education is the key to eliminating poverty and growing our economy. The goals and dream of children should be limitless, so it is time to reprioritize this year’s budget for them. Opening libraries on the weekends will be a start to getting our children’s quality of life back on track.
Omar Torres lives Washington community in the greater downtown San Jose area. He has served on the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee since 2007 and was recently re-elected to a fourth term in 2012. He also serves on the executive board of the California Democratic Party. Upon graduating from San Jose State University, he was hired to be the executive director of the Santa Maria Urban Ministry. He continues to be involved with the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association.