Mission Viejo Branches Into Library Business : Government: City gets OK to break from county system, build and run its own $6-million, state-of-the-art facility.


With the blessings of the Board of Supervisors, Mission Viejo on Tuesday became the first city in Orange County to secede from the county library system.

Supervisors agreed unanimously to hand over about $950,000 in annual library taxes that Mission Viejo will use to run a planned $6-million library. Also, they will let the city sell the existing branch library--valued at about $1 million--and apply the proceeds toward the new facility.

For years, the fast-growing city had searched for a way to replace its tiny branch library with a large, modern facility. The county’s financial hardships prompted Mission Viejo to propose breaking away from the county system and running its own library.


Although county officials don’t expect other cities to split with the county system, some communities are paying close attention to the supervisors’ decision.

“I don’t think it was a one-time situation. I believe it really highlights a change in the county,” Irvine City Manager Paul O. Brady Jr. said Tuesday. His city is exploring how to run its own library, including taking over the local county branch.

The bankrupt county, with its 27-branch library system, has been looking into selling some branches to cities and closing some smaller libraries to generate money to keep others open.

A financially strapped county is “going to have to look at doing things differently,” said Brady. “This signals a very positive time for the county and cities.”

However, County Librarian John M. Adams doesn’t expect a flood of defections.

“I don’t know if there are many other cities in the county able to spend the dollars for a new library like Mission Viejo,” Adams said.

Mission Viejo Councilwoman Sherri M. Butterfield said she has shared information with several communities interested in running their own library.


“A lot of people have been looking into it,” she said. “I think eventually you’ll see communities coming together and running their libraries regionally and you’ll see the county out of the library business altogether.”

For Mission Viejo, the supervisors’ decision culminates the city’s decade-long quest for a new library.

The existing branch library was built in 1972 for about 15,000 people. Today, between Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills, the library serves a population of almost 120,000.

Books have piled up in back rooms because there isn’t enough shelf space in the 9,000-square-foot building. Fewer children’s programs are held in Mission Viejo than in other libraries because of cramped quarters.

Architects are drawing up plans for a state-of-the-art, 25,000-square-foot building that “will be the heartbeat of our city,” said Butterfield.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “A very long period of hard work by a lot of people has finally come together.”


Mission Viejo has already paid nearly $5 million for a civic center site at La Paz Road and Marguerite Parkway where the library will sit prominently on the corner.

Although Mission Viejo will hold its own purse strings, the city isn’t separating entirely from the county.

When Mission Viejo takes over in July, 1996, the city will contract for county librarians to staff the library at $951,000 per year--the exact amount of revenue from the special library tax district.