Welcoming 1994 with a strong push for a new eastern Ventura County library, Oak Park leader Ron Stark said Thursday he would like to team up with Thousand Oaks leaders to build a regional facility.
Stark, who is considering running for county supervisor, renewed his long-standing critique of the Ventura County library district and suggested that Oak Park might be better served by joining Thousand Oaks’ independent two-branch system.
“The Ventura County library district extracts more money from Oak Park taxpayers than it spends here,” Stark said. “Oak Park has an award-winning school district and we need the means to pursue the education that’s so important to us, and that means better libraries.”
Thousand Oaks Councilman Frank Schillo said he would like to meet with Stark to discuss the issue. But he stopped short of calling for a new library branch in Oak Park, arguing that too many facilities clustered in the same area would wastefully duplicate services.
Instead, Schillo suggested an arrangement granting Oak Park residents access to Thousand Oaks’ libraries free of charge. Citizens living in the unincorporated pockets of Newbury Park now enjoy such a deal, and the tax money they pay for library service goes to Thousand Oaks instead of to Ventura County.
Under the current arrangement, Oak Park library patrons must pay $55 for Thousand Oaks’ non-resident library card.
That fee prevents some Oak Park residents from using Thousand Oaks’ libraries, said Noreen Armerding, president of the Oak Park Friends of the Library.
“Everyone says Oak Park is an affluent community, but there are retired citizens and unemployed people here,” Armerding said. “We have to be realistic, and in this economy, many people can’t afford $55.”
But simply sharing Thousand Oaks’ library would not satisfy Stark, a member of the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council who has been clamoring for a new library for years. He said he believes Oak Park is ready for a spacious, well-equipped library--and the community has saved the cash to build it.
By charging developers a special fee for each new home they build in the area, Oak Park has already collected about $1.5 million to build a bigger library branch.
But county leaders have not approved the Oak Park branch because the county has no money to fund ongoing operational costs, including librarians’ salaries, utilities and book acquisitions.
Pooling resources with Thousand Oaks’ library district could help, especially if Oak Park could recoup all the tax dollars earmarked for library services that its residents now send to Ventura County.
But, Stark warned, the community would join Thousand Oaks’ district only conditionally. “We would insist,” he said, “on having our own library in Oak Park.”
Several proposals to build a new library branch in Oak Park have fallen apart over the years because residents insist that any facility be within the community’s borders and preferably near the high school. Oak Park citizens rejected a plan two years ago to build a regional library in Agoura Hills.
Crammed into Oak Park High School, the unincorporated community’s existing library is open only 12 hours a week. Its shelves are overflowing with 20,000 volumes, and there is no room to stash new books.
“We have not gotten our tax dollars returned to us when it comes to library services,” Armerding said. “We have outgrown our present facility and we really need more room.”
In contrast, Thousand Oaks’ libraries attract admiration from readers and researchers around the county. Since breaking away from Ventura County’s library system more than a decade ago, the city has steadily expanded the size and variety of its collections.
Open every day except Friday, Thousand Oaks’ main branch on Janss Road contains 312,000 volumes--more than 15 times the size of Oak Park’s collection. The Newbury Park branch, which opened three years ago in a converted supermarket, has nearly twice as many books as Oak Park and stays open 42 hours a week.
Thousand Oaks pours about $4 million a year into its two libraries, more than the city’s annual expenditure on street improvements.