Our Los Altos libraries are gems, beloved throughout our communities. For the past eight years, I have attempted to strengthen them while serving on the Santa Clara County Library District Joint Powers Authority Board. I have tried to rectify the financial unfairness of the formula, which heavily subsidizes other cities at the expense of our residents.
I stand by the analysis that indicates that the current formula by which resources are allocated to each library in the system is eminently unfair to Los Altos. We should be getting at a minimum $600,000 more a year. Because of the skewed formula, we (Los Altos and Los Altos Hills) voted a $76 annual parcel tax on ourselves to raise $1 million a year, in order to supplement opening hours and materials at our libraries.
I embarked on an effort to get the formula revised.My goal was never to leave the system but to negotiate a fairer deal. A committee, comprising the city managers of the nine cities involved, was formed. The committee would not endorse a change. At the last minute, an amendment was proposed to limit the discrepancy in funding to 5 percent, reducing our share by $67,000. Even that minimal change was voted down. Understandably, we felt slapped in the face. Spite should not, however, drive our decisions.
The Los Altos City Council decided Nov. 13 to form an ad hoc task force to explore options for the Los Altos libraries, e.g., withdraw from the Santa Clara Library District. The vote was 3-2, with two of the members voting yes scheduled to step down in a matter of weeks. This is hardly a consensus. I have suggested the mayor defer the item to a later date to enable the new council to decide. I presumed that pushing it through at this time would be reversed by the new council. It likely will be.
There is no groundswell of discontent with paying $76 a year more than we should, but there is widespread support for the library. It is indisputably a wonderful system. It could be duplicated, maybe. It could cost us less, maybe. However, separating from the county system would be complex. Even setting up a task force to study this option is difficult and generates anxiety in the community.
We should be concerned about long-term cost increases and, if the financial situation of the library district deteriorates, we may, at some future date, have to investigate all options. We should do so only with a strong consensus on the councils and involve the Library Commission and the community at large in the process.
I do not want to be part of this task force. Our community does not need another divisive issue right now, when there are other important issues to resolve.
Jean Mordo is a Los Altos Hills councilmember.