Residents rally for libraries

CITY HALL — Residents are mobilizing in opposition to proposals to cut services at the Chevy Chase and Casa Verdugo branch libraries as officials grapple with how to close an $18-million budget gap.

Included in a nearly $500,000 proposed budget cut to the Library Department are the closures of the Casa Verdugo branch and converting the Chevy Chase Library to a community center that would host fee-based programs and maintain a “minimal” library presence.

But residents in both areas have begun gathering signatures, sending emails to City Council members and publicly speaking out against the proposals.

“We ask you, ‘Do Chevy Chase and Glenoaks residents not deserve this small slice of the library budget pie?’” resident Pamela Tom told the City Council on Tuesday.

City officials have cautioned that the proposals are not set in stone, and could change as the City Council begins drafting the budget for next fiscal year.

“What you hear proposed by staff by no means is adopted by council until we get to the place where we’re actually adopting budgets,” Mayor Laura Friedman said Tuesday.

Under the budget proposals, the Casa Verdugo branch would close completely, but could serve as a temporary location for the book collection from Brand Library and Art Gallery during renovations that are expected to take up to two years

Resident Beatriz Magallon on Tuesday said her two daughters have been going to the Casa Verdugo Branch since they were babies, and pleaded with the City Council to save the library.

“This is their home, their library that they visit four to five times a week,” she said. “I can’t see my daughters and our family and our community not having our library there.”

The Chevy Chase branch was on the chopping block in 2009, but saw minimal weekly hours maintained after area residents organized large community protests.

Since then, a range of programming at the library has been produced by local volunteers, who now say they are alarmed by the proposal to transfer the building to another department.

“We’re concerned about what it means to turn the library over to Community Services & Parks. We don’t know what that means,” said resident Denise Meyer. “Some in our group of volunteers think it’s the death knell for the library as a library.”

In proposing the cuts, city officials have pointed to the branch library’s relatively tiny circulation numbers, but residents say it is virtually the only public service available in their area.

“This branch is like a rural outpost that provides service to the unique needs of our community,” Tom said.

City Council members were receptive to their concerns, but added that if the library proposal is rejected, it would likely have to be replaced with other service cuts.

“There are very few cuts, or maybe no cuts, in this budget that aren’t going to hurt someone,” Friedman said. “So whether it’s library or some other service, whatever it is, somebody out there considers it essential.”

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