MISSION VIEJO : City Negotiating Split From Library System

The City Council has authorized the city attorney to begin negotiating with the county to make it the first city to separate from the county library system.

At the end of a rancorous four-hour special meeting last week that included an angry confrontation with a county library official, the council appointed City Atty. Peter M. Thorson to head the negotiating team.

Thorson’s job will be crucial: He needs to persuade the county to turn over the portion of Mission Viejo property taxes that currently are spent to run the local branch library.

Otherwise, some council members said, they will not support taking over the county branch library in Mission Viejo.


A city study recently found the local branch is undersized and residents are not receiving adequate library services.

City staff was also asked to refine a recent city report on the county-run library.

Council members asked staff to come up with more data on the costs of running the current facility and a planned 25,000-square-foot library.

The council spent the first three hours of the meeting discussing the report, which outlined problems caused by the tight confines of the 9,155-square-foot library.


The report also gave a basic estimate of what Mission Viejo could expect to pay to run the current building and the planned library.

The meeting heated up in the final hour when county librarian John Adams challenged some of the report’s conclusions.

The report, compiled by El Segundo head librarian Barbara Pearson, failed to mention several operating costs, including expenses for equipment maintenance, insurance, legal advice and burglar and fire alarms, Adams said.

“There is a lot missing in this model budget,” he said to the council. “This report is incomplete. . . . You have not been provided with (the cost information) you need.”


Adams added that it would be “significantly cheaper” for the county, with 27 branches under its umbrella, to run the local library.

The two sides have produced conflicting figures on operating costs for the branch library. The city report estimated that the branch could be run for $837,000 annually, but Adams has said operating costs for the local branch run $1 million.

Adams has said city taxpayers paid about $800,000 into the library system during the 1992-93 budget year, while city officials put that figure at about $980,000.

Council members asked Adams to acknowledge that Mission Viejo taxpayers were supporting other libraries in the county system and criticized the county for not providing Pearson and city staff with exact cost figures.


“We have never received the kind of service we have paid for,” Mayor Susan Withrow said. “The truth is, Mission Viejo taxpayers have been subsidizing the (county library system) for a long time. We want you to admit that.”

Adams maintained that local taxes earmarked for the library do not cover operating costs.

When City Manager Fred Sorsabal pointedly asked him for “truthful” figures for the research requested by the council, Adams replied sarcastically: “Would you like me to stand on a Bible?”

Sorsabal indicated the research requested by council members would be ready in 45 days.