If Los Altos wants to secede from the Santa Clara County Library District, it will have to convince the 11-member Joint Powers Authority (JPA), not the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
That was the response Santa Clara County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith delivered in an Aug. 26 letter to Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard. Packard and Los Altos Hills City Councilman Jean Mordo initiated the proposal to withdraw from the district because of concerns about the library district’s rising pension costs, inequitable funding formulas, labor contracts and imposition of a fee for nonresident users, factors that may drive Los Altos and Los Altos Hills out of the JPA if not addressed and modified.
Packard and Mordo represent their respective cities on the JPA and the North County Library Authority (NCLA). The NCLA provides supplemental funding to the Los Altos libraries.
Smith defined the county’s position: “The Board of Supervisors delegated the authority for fiscal and policy decisions regarding the library to the JPA Board. Thus, the issues you raise about the ‘sharing’ formula and the nonresident fee are appropriately addressed to the JPA Board not the Board of Supervisors. As one member of the JPA, the County cannot really satisfactorily address your concerns.”
Smith added that the county has recently negotiated concessions from the new union, which could mitigate some of the costs listed in Packard’s letter.
“Each member of the JPA must make their own decision about their community needs and the equity of the JPA function,” Smith wrote.
The varied levels of responsibility complicate what, on the surface, should be a simple governing matter.
For 80 years, members of the library district united to establish a nationally recognized library system. In 2005, amid potentially serious cutbacks in district services due to voters’ rejection of a library-tax increase (although continuation of the existing tax was approved), the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, where the addition had exceeded the required two-thirds vote, formed the North County Library Authority and raised funds to subsidize the Los Altos main and Woodland libraries to maintain the services.
Representatives of the two cities in the NCLA must acquire other votes in the JPA to assure that the level of services in the Santa Clara County Library District continues. After losing the battle in April to avoid imposing an $80 fee on nonresidents by an 8-to-3 vote, the local communities successfully lobbied to exempt students whose school district boundaries lie within the library district. Ongoing campaigns hope to exempt senior citizens and caregivers.
Faced with the reality of overcoming their minority position, even though they contribute additional funding, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are studying the effects of seceding from the library district. Outside consultants, including Los Altos Hills City Attorney Steve Mattas, are investigating the impact of such action.