LONG BEACH - Children's story time at the Bay Shore Neighborhood Library is something that Charlynn Rick plans her weeks around.
Rick, 43, said her children enjoy the summer reading program offered at Bay Shore in Belmont Shore, so much so that she goes there rather than branches closer to her home.
Soon, Rick and her children may have to travel across the city to get their reading fix, as Bay Shore readies to convert into a "self-service" library with limited librarian assistance, fewer literacy programs and more self-checkout use by patrons.
The cuts, along with others affecting most of the city's parks, are just part of a proposed plan to close a $17.3 million budget gap in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. However, they are among the reductions that could have the greatest impact on area youth and children.
To Rick, the library reductions are unfortunate for families that are trying to encourage a love of reading in their children.
"Why does it always have to be the kids' stuff?" she asked.
The answer has to do with trying to maintain full library - and park - services in the most vulnerable parts of Long Beach, officials say.
Six `self-service' facilities
With $1.3 million in cuts required under City Manager Pat West's proposed budget, library officials decided to downgrade offerings in more affluent areas of the city to preserve services in at-risk neighborhoods where adults and children have
The facilities chosen for the self-service model are the Alamitos, Bach, Brewitt, Bay Shore, Dana and Los Altos branches.
Though the move would lower costs by $392,471, Williams said the figure doesn't account for expenses at the Alamitos, Bach and Brewitt branches.
Those libraries were targeted to become self-service in last year's budget but were saved through the City Council's "one-time" use of surplus oil revenue. The funding ends Sept. 30.
"We have to live within our budget parameters," Williams said, adding, "I'm very glad we're not closing locations."
Besides increased reliance on self-checkout and the other changes, cash registers would be removed from the self-service branches, meaning library users will have to go to other locations to pay fines. Credit cards aren't accepted at libraries, Williams said.
Library officials would also likely end CD and DVD lending at the branches under the proposed budget, since the rentals are fee-based.
According to Long Beach Public Library tracking, 16,142 CDs and 16,573 DVDs were checked out at the six libraries in fiscal year 2011.
In other reductions, staff at the Harte and Mark Twain libraries would be chopped to match other full-service branches, trimming another $289,687.
Hours at the Main Library would also be cut to those of branch locations and staff will be reduced, saving $523,237. The changes, officials said, would result in longer lines, fewer new materials and less opportunity to have reference questions answered, among other effects.
That's bad news to Long Beach City College student Crystal Arreola, 19, a frequent visitor to the Main Library.
Arreola said she feels library services will eventually disappear if the city continues to cut from them.
"There are some things here that you can't get at schools," said Arreola, who commented that her college's library is small.
To one library official, at least one of the changes to the way Long Beach runs its libraries is welcome.
Alamitos librarian Annabelle Rice said the self-service kiosks are a positive development and the devices should be used in more libraries.
"Some people embrace technology and some people want something more personal," Rice said.
Park, pool cutbacks
The budget calls for even greater cuts from the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department, which would spend $2.8 million less in the coming year.
The largest chunk of that, $1.3 million, would come from ending city-run youth programs at College Estates, Wardlow, Whaley, Pan American, Somerset, Stearns, Cherry, Drake, Miracle, El Dorado West, Davenport, Deforest and Bixby parks.
After-school programming, Summer Fun Days and youth sports would be affected, according to officials. The open gym at Pan American Park is also set for closure.
Services would continue in West Long Beach parks, where populations are considered at-risk.
The after-school program, offered to children ages 5 to 12 Monday through Friday during the school year, is particularly popular, with 361,916 participants days recorded in fiscal year 2011, said Business Operations Manager John Keisler.
However, after a decade of budget cuts, Keisler said the department can't maintain current city programs at present levels and are instead turning to private partners to deliver pay-in, contract classes such as music enrichment, sailing and photography. More are likely in the future.
"It will be demand-driven, depending on what people are willing to pay for," Keisler said. "We'll still be able to provide something, even if we won't be the primary providers of these services."
Other abatements planned in the Parks Department include fewer city-programmed pool hours, with Silverado Pool only open for the summer, Will J. Reid pool closed and Millikan Pool no longer operated during the summer. The reductions save $63,239.
The Park Ranger program at El Dorado Regional Park would also move to a peak Friday, Saturday and Sunday schedule, removing $235,351 from the budget.
Another $217,729 would be cut by conducting maintenance tasks less frequently, and the city would partner with private groups for programming and support for Adaptive Recreation, the El Dorado Nature Center and the Long Beach Senior Center to save $364,791.
The possible closure of Will J. Reid pool, located at 4747 Daisy Ave., is a big deal for its surrounding community. Long Beach resident Monica Maravilla, 26, takes her two kids to play in the pool every day it is open when they are on summer vacation.
"Hopefully, they don't close," Maravilla said. "Everywhere else you have to pay to get in."
Knowing how popular the pool is to her and her neighbors, Maravilla said she would call the city and get signatures if it meant the pool will remain open to the public.
Kat Negrete, 35, said she wouldn't mind paying if it meant her son, who is almost 2 years old, has a place to swim in her neighborhood. She is also willing to pay more if the pool were open at more convenient hours for her and her son.
"North Long Beach is not the safest," Negrete said. "So many kids can be in trouble. There is nothing for the kids to do in the area. I think the city is making bad choices."
The choice hasn't been officially made yet. In the coming weeks, the council will consider the proposed budget and whether to change it during public meetings. The council has until Sept. 15 to approve a budget.