CITY HALL — On the heels of residential protests, the City Council this week took the Casa Verdugo and Chevy Chase branch libraries off the budget chopping block as council members continue to grapple with a projected $18-million budget gap.
Closing 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 was part of a nearly $500,000 proposed cut to the library budget.
When the proposal became public, residents in both areas began gathering signatures and peppering City Council members with emails of opposition.
With the residents continuing to mobilize against the proposal, the City Council on Wednesday said they would not approve the Casa Verdugo closure or the Chevy Chase conversion — which made up roughly half the value of the proposed cuts.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do or how we’re going to go about doing it, but we need to keep these branches open,” Councilman Frank Quintero said at a special budget meeting. “They’re being used by young people, seniors, college kids, high school kids.”
Council members also indicated they would not support alternative cuts offered by Library Director Cindy Cleary, which included slashing additional hours at all branch libraries or the system’s main Central Library.
“Difficult decisions need to be made,” Cleary said. “I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this, but I’m offering it as an alternative.”
Council members said they were hesitant to cut key library services and would instead look at finding additional cuts from within other city departments.
“I’m willing to bet we will find other places that we don’t think are as essential as this,” said Councilman Dave Weaver.
Mayor Laura Friedman went further, saying she would like to consider finding additional funding to bring library-sponsored children’s programming back to the Chevy Chase Library.
Under current funding levels, the Chevy Chase branch — which was previously on the chopping block in 2009 budget talks — is open only 11 hours per week, and all programming is produced by community volunteers.
Chevy Chase Library supporters had been in the process of organizing a larger protest to the cuts at a City Council meeting when they heard that their library had once again been saved.
“We are really thrilled with the community coming out and signing petitions,” said resident Denise Meyer. “We still would love more services, but we are breathing a sigh of relief.”