Backers of a proposed San Jose measure that would guarantee libraries a share of revenues suffered another blow Wednesday when a committee led by Mayor Chuck Reed blocked their request for the City Council to vote on whether it should be on the November ballot.
Council members Kansen Chu, Ash Kalra and Xavier Campos called for Reed's agenda-setting Rules and Open Government Committee to schedule a Tuesday vote on placing the measure on the ballot.
Holding yellow "Right the Wrong" signs, supporters argued the city should put it on the ballot because the city clerk hampered their petition-gathering effort by misleading them about the number of required signatures.
"I collected more than 300 signatures because I love our libraries and want to see them open more than three days a week," said San Jose resident Wilma Hashii. "Then we find out all our time was for nothing because city staff made a mistake."
But Reed and the other committee members, Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, argued that its supporters still have until Sept. 18 to gather the additional signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.
"It seems we're a little bit premature," Reed said. "They still have a couple of months left to go."
Measure backers said it's unrealistic for them to continue their signature gathering campaign and were left weighing their next move.
"We'll have to regroup and see," said campaign manager
Library advocates launched their campaign in April to qualify a ballot measure that would guarantee a share of city revenues for libraries like some other big cities. They said the measure would replace funding from a parcel tax expiring in two years without asking voters to approve another tax, which their polling suggested would fail.
Backers said the city clerk told them initially they needed 19,161 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. But in June, City Clerk Dennis Hawkins told them that upon further review with the city attorney, they found that it would need three times as many signatures, or 57,483 because the measure would amend the city charter.
"This error killed our fundraising," Allen said. "People see this as a dead issue."
Reed has opposed the proposed measure, arguing it would force the city's elected leaders to bolster the libraries at the expense of other vital services including the police and fire departments which already have been depleted by recent budget cuts.
He noted that largely thanks to hard-fought employee pay and benefit cuts and layoffs, San Jose has a modest budget surplus that will allow the city to open four newly built branch libraries that have remained closed for lack of funds to staff them.
According to an analysis by the city manager, the proposed measure would increase the library share of the city's general fund from $22.6 million to $42 million, an 86-percent increase. Reed said the additional $19.4 million that would go to the libraries would pay for roughly 100 cops or firefighters.
"I think it would be a disaster for our city," Reed said. "Every council member would like to restore hours to libraries. I don't think there's any doubt libraries are a priority. But not at the expense of police and fire."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.