Thursday, April 14, 2005
<>>Salinas school kids sat on the State Capitol steps Tuesday and read The Little Engine That Could. Then they were off to lobby support for Salinas libraries.
The children were among the 60 or so Salinas residents who traveled to Sacramento on April 12 to hold a mini read-in and a press conference on the Capitol steps before meeting with state legislators and urging them to help find a short-term and long-term solution to keep Salinas’ libraries open.
They carried letters, kids’ drawings and petitions signed by more than 24,000 people calling for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to enact legislation to save the libraries.
Local Assemblymen Simón Salinas and John Laird (who also chairs the Assembly Budget Committee) welcomed the group to the Capitol, and stood with them during the press conference.
“The city of Salinas is in crisis,” said La Union de Pueblo Entrero’s Cesar Lara, one of the event’s organizers, in a telephone interview from the Capitol on Tuesday. “We’re closing down schools, we’re closing down rec centers and we’re closing down libraries.
“We’ve been to the City Council meetings; we’ve been involved with the Mayor’s Rally Salinas campaign, but some of the responsibility lies with Sacramento. Sacramento needs to step up to the plate and take responsibility for what’s going on in Salinas as well as the hard decisions to close down libraries and rec centers that are being made up and down the state.”
In February, Mayor Anna Caballero announced her Rally Salinas plan to keep the libraries open for the rest of the year. (Late last year, the Council voted to close them for budgetary reasons.)
Rally Salinas recently reached its $500,000 goal, which is enough to keep the libraries open with minimal services until a permanent revenue source can be found, like a tax measure to pay for full services.
Currently, the libraries are open 32 hours a week. In June, however, the hours will drop to 10 hours a week at Cesar Chavez library and eight hours a week at John Steinbeck and El Gabilan libraries.
“We need to find short- and long-term, equitable solutions to keeping our libraries open in Salinas and other communities,” said Councilmember Sergio Sanchez, who helped lead the buses full of library advocates to the state Capitol. Sanchez brought his two daughters, five-year-old Eliza and 16-year-old Monica, with him.
Eliza usually won’t get out of bed before 8am, he says. But on April 12, “when I woke her up at five in the morning and said, ‘Are you ready to go to Sacramento to help save the libraries?’ she jumped out of bed,” Sanchez said.
He spoke with the Weekly from his cell phone while the group took a lunch break. Next up on the agenda, Sanchez said, was to deliver the petitions to the governor’s office, and to local state senators Abel Maldonado and Jeff Denham, as well as other key members of the budget committees. Finally, he said, they would hold another mini read-in in front of Schwarzenegger’s office.
“Hopefully they won’t arrest us,” he said.
With the revised 2005-2006 state budget slated to be released in May, Sanchez said, he’s hoping that lawmakers will find some short-term, discretionary money to fund library services. But he said it will take a more permanent funding source to keep the doors open for the long run.
“It is a local problem, but it’s a local problem only because the governor decided to refund the [vehicle license fee] money and to raid our city coffers,” Sanchez said. “And obviously we have to look for local revenues to keep our libraries open, but we need Sacramento’s help—especially if they continue to take our money.”
Salinas isn’t the only city facing budget trouble, Lara said, pointing to a recent Sacramento City School District decision to shut down all of its school libraries.
“We’re going to the boards of supervisors, the city councils, the school districts, and everyone else,” Lara said, “But help also has to come from the state and federal governments. And Sacramento is closer to drive to.
“Our biggest concern is to bring awareness to this. If [state lawmakers] were to find more funding for police, for infrastructure needs, it would loosen the cities’ belts to have more money to save libraries.”