So the biggest point of protest during the public comment period of Tuesday’s budget meeting was the proposed elimination of the Library’s Second Start Adult Literacy Program. The Second Start people played the pity card big time, parading a long line of volunteer tutors in the program talking about how much it means to them, program staff and literacy education professionals in other Bay Area cities talking about what a vital service Second Start provides, and finally a string of incredibly sympathetic destitute looking women enrolled in the program, some dragging a bunch of small children up to the podium with them, to talk about how hard their life is and how Second Start is like, the only good thing in their world and without it they wouldn’t even be able to fill out a job application, and so on. You’d seriously have to have a heart made out of coal to not be moved by their pleas.
But times are tough, and the fact is that in tough times, there are always worthy programs that have to get cut. What can you do? Life isn’t fair. And so, even though it seems almost sick to take away something so noble, especially when doing so will only make a $150,000 dent in that $37.4 million General Fund deficit, I might be inclined to say that yes, Second Start is one of the painful sacrifices we’re going to have to make, and we’ll just have to hope that the literacy education burden could be shouldered by, say, Laney or the County or something.
At least, I could see myself supporting the elimination of the Library’s literacy programs in these tough times If the people of Oakland hadn’t voted specifically to tax themselves to pay for it only four years ago! I’m sorry, but this is just completely unacceptable. Measure Q, which pays for the bulk of the library’s literacy programs, was passed in 2004 with an overwhelming 77.2% of the vote. Sixty-two thousand Oakland residents stepped into a voting booth and checked “I want to pay $75 dollars every year for the next thirty years to support library services.”
And what is written there, clear as day, under the “Use of Proceeds” section of the measure (PDF)? “To expand library-based programs in support of literacy, lifelong learning, and information technology.” See? It says expand, not eliminate! Library Director Carmen Martinez and then-Mayor Jerry Brown signed a very straightforward ballot argument in favor the tax, promising that Measure Q will “Maintain literacy programs that teach Oakland residents to read.” And people said “Yes, I will pay for that. Send me the bill.”
End of story. Seriously, what else is there to discuss? As long as they keep collecting Measure Q dollars (that would be until 2024, FYI), any talk of eliminating the library’s literacy programs should be completely off the table. The City cannot keep breaking promises about how they’re going to spend the taxpayer’s money! Why, why, why should I, or anyone else, ever vote for another tax in this City again when we cannot trust them to spend the money as promised?
Second Start isn’t the only unconscionable cut in the Mayor’s proposed budget, and hey – it isn’t even the only one to library services. The Mayor also proposes to save us $120,000 by eliminating the Bookmobile.
Now I realize that some people hate the Bookmobile and think it just drives around West Oakland all day wasting gas and being generally ignored by all the illiterates who live there, but, well, those people could probably stand to learn a little bit more about the service before they rush to condemn it. The Bookmobile is the library for many of our preschools, charter schools, rehabilitation facilities, and senior homes. In the last two cases, we’re talking about providing services for people who often literally cannot get to a library.
To deny library services – one of the handful of truly basic services that every city is expected to provide – to our neediest residents is beyond unthinkable. It is just as bad as, no, worse than, closing a branch library. If all the branch libraries have to reduce their hours to keep the Bookmobile operating, then that totally sucks, but like I said above, everybody has to share the burden of the budget problem, and it’s going to hurt. (Talk of closing libraries an additional day a week, however, is completely unacceptable – again, we go back to Measure Q, we were promised would “Keep the main library open 7 days a week and neighborhood libraries 6 days a week.” )