WALNUT CREEK -- A proposal for significant reductions of open hours at the city's two libraries was announced just two weeks ago, but that chapter has now closed.
On May 6, the City Council decided that, starting July 1, the most they could pay for library hours above and beyond the county-funded minimum was an additional 12 hours per week -- not 21. But the council reversed course Tuesday, deciding by a 4-1 vote to use the nearly $527,000 already appropriated for two years of open hours at the library and pay for the full 21 additional open hours, for the 2014-15 fiscal year only. Council members also agreed to work on a plan for maintaining those hours in the future.
And library supporters are thrilled.
"We believe that free public libraries in this country are the cornerstones of democracy, and it's our duty, all of ours, to find a solution for our own two libraries to be open a maximum number of hours," said Carole Wynstra, incoming president of the Walnut Creek Library Foundation.
The county pays for 35 open hours a week at each of its 26 libraries; if a city wants more than that, it must pay for those additional hours. Thanks to parcel-tax income, Walnut Creek libraries have been open 56 hours a week for years. That money is almost gone, and city leaders have been working to reduce a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.
The lone "no" vote was from Councilwoman Loella Haskew. She said she is a major supporter of libraries but believes using all the library money this coming year presents a risk for 2015-16 library hours. If the council doesn't find more money by then, the libraries would be open only 35 hours a week, which she said is too extreme a cut.
But for most of the council, Tuesday's action was one of coming together. Mayor Kristina Lawson and Councilwoman Cindy Silva, who had been on opposite sides of this issue, mapped out a plan together to preserve the open-hours status quo.
"This is a compromise solution that actually puts the pedal to the metal and gets something done on the long-term issues," Silva said.
But Councilman Justin Wedel said the hype about library hours has been unnecessary because plans had been floated (and rejected) by a council majority to pay for additional library hours for two years.
"The entirety of the reason why we are still having this discussion is not a financial issue, but it's the (council) majority's decision not to go down this path in the first place," Wedel said.
Councilman Bob Simmons disagreed, saying other proposals required the use of one-time money.
Figuring out how to fund the library will be part of a larger discussion that will determine how the city should also pay for and operate the Lesher Center for the Arts and the Clarke Swim Center.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.