Longer hours proposed for Palo Alto libraries

City Manager James Keene's budget would add staff to evolving library system

It may not have a gripping plot, but the City of Palo Alto's latest publication will have local bookworms riveted.

City Manager James Keene on Monday night released a proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 that includes as one of its boldest suggestions a significant expansion in library hours. The council's Finance Committee will begin reviewing the budget next week and the City Council is set to adopt it, with possible modifications, on June 15.

Reflecting the surging economy and the recent uptick in tax revenues, the proposed budget includes $185.1 million in General Fund expenditures, $14 million more than in 2015. Expenditures on salaries and benefits account for $5.9 million of this increase, while infrastructure funding makes up another $5 million. The budget proposes to add 13.3 new positions, though the net increase in staffing would be 7.3 because of the council's decision last year to outsource streetsweeping, thereby eliminating six positions. New positions include two planning managers dedicated to parking and traffic, respectively. A new manager of maintenance operations for the Palo Alto Airport and a new code enforcement officer are also proposed.

But it's the city's freshly expanded library system that will see the biggest shift, starting July 1. The added staffing builds upon milestones achieved in recent months: the new Mitchell Park branch hosted its grand opening in December and the renovated Rinconada Library branch following suit in February, equipped with a new wing and a new name.

The new budget proposes to add 4.8 new library positions at a cost of $493,000. It also proposes to expand operating hours by 14 percent, from 228 hours per week to 260, starting in August. While the Downtown and College Terrace branches would retain their present schedules, the other branches would open at 10 a.m. Closing times at Mitchell Park and Rinconada would be extended from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday hours would be doubled at these two prominent branches. Currently, both are open from 1 to 5 p.m. Under Keene's proposal, the operating hours would be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"The increase in library hours and funding for equipment and supplies will provide library patrons with additional opportunities to benefit from library services for educational, community and personal enrichment," the budget states. "With the increase in operating hours, it is anticipated that attendance in recreational reading programs, annual library visits, as well as the number of library materials checked-out, will increase."

The proposal has yet to be vetted by the Finance Committee and the full council. But during Monday's brief discussion, no council members raised any objections to the proposal to add library services. Councilman Pat Burt signaled his strong support

"It's really great that we'll be able to expand the library and (Mitchell Park) Community Center hours," Burt said. "I think that's going to be very well-received by the community. The new libraries seem to be extremely popular and all we hear is, 'Why are they closing?' This is a great response to that."

Statistics confirm that Palo Altans like their libraries. Even with all the service disruptions and branch closures last year, 81 percent of the residents ranked the quality of local libraries as "good" or "excellent," the two highest rankings in the National Citizens Survey.

The city's checkout figures were strong last year. The budget notes that Palo Alto libraries ranked in the top 2 of 46 public library systems in checkouts per capita. According to the California Library Statistics 2014, the city had 24 checkouts compared to a peer average of eight.

In addition to proposing the 4.8 new positions, the budget notes that "additional staffing resources may be required in the future to further align staffing with service demands."

Libraries aren't the only community destinations that could see staffing changes. Keene also proposed adding an equivalent of 1.3 positions to the new Mitchell Park Community Center by bringing in three part-time recreation leaders and a program assistant. The objective is to provide "an additional outlet for Palo Alto youths and teens to engage in additional leadership and enrichment activities."

Three new facility attendants at Mitchell Park and Lucie Stern community centers would collectively add another full-time position. Proposed special-events coordinators would add another 1.5 positions.

Overall, the budget includes 1,041 positions in the General Fund, compared to 1,028 this year.

In addition to the staffing increases, the 2016 budget includes projected increases in pension and heath care spending. It notes that work is "still needed with our employee groups to reduce long-term pension and health care liabilities while remaining a competitive employer."

The city is now negotiating with its main police and firefighter unions, and it plans to talk about a new contract with its biggest labor group, the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, next year.

Even so, the general tone is optimistic. Keene noted in his transmittal letter that Palo Alto "continues to be at the epicenter of a thriving regional economy."

"This economic boom as well as the voter-approved transient-occupancy tax rate increase have generated significantly higher revenues for the City," Keene wrote. "The local economic boom has also resulted in an increase in job growth, more traffic, and a higher demand for parking, and other city services. ... In alignment with council priorities and directives, this budget proposes investments in parking and transportation funding, infrastructure, and new spending for Healthy City, Healthy Community initiatives."

Related article:

Payday at City Hall: What's driving the growing payroll?

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4 people like this
Posted by Library patron wannabe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2015 at 7:19 am

Can we also please get our lending policies in line with the Los Altos library, too? Their lending policies are much more friendly to parents and the disabled. The excuse I'm always given in Palo Alto is that the county system has more resources, but I never borrow things that aren't already at Los Altos. Palo Alto charges you money if you reserve a book and can't get in to pick it up. It's greener to let people have a little leeway anyway. Kids videos in PA have one week and if someone else reserves, you have to go in or be fined. The real reason is probably that in PA, the fines go to the general funpd, but in Los Altos, the fund the libraries.

Los Altos has more resources because someone died and left a huge bequest, for one thing. As a Palo Alto resident who uses LA library because of better lending policies, I get that. If we can afford personnel, perhaps the first thing they can do is change the lending policies or solicit donations so we have enough materials to?

8 people like this
Posted by more hours
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 9:13 am

Can we get the College Terrace library to be open on Thursdays? We're always accidentally going there on Thursday forgetting that it's closed and then my children are super disappointed.

19 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2015 at 9:17 am

Really silly to spend so much money on new library buildings, but then not keep them open in the evenings. I would rather have fewer libraries with longer hours at a few of them.

6 people like this
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2015 at 9:19 am

> We're always accidentally going there on Thursday forgetting that it's closed
> and then my children are super disappointed

Wouldn't it be cheaper to give this person a calendar with Thursdays colored in red?

With Mitchell Park so close, why have this poorly used library open at all?

11 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 10:02 am

There has been a longstanding problem with community groups and individuals not having free access to meeting rooms in public facilities, including libraries, and not having late enough hours to host meetings after work. You can see that this need is alive when you visit the new Varsity Theater, which is about the only gathering place in the city where the public is actually enabled to have conversations in a quiet and hospitable space.

So, this is a welcome advance! It's a tiny proportion of the overall budget, yet provides a large public benefit. The remodeled libraries are wonderful and have been designed for gathering and participation. Yet, I might add: 9:00 PM seems minimal for those of us who work, or are night owls.

And, again, to remind everyone that the city does not provide equal access to services: the southwest quadrant of the city has NO FACILITIES of this nature. Those that we had in the past are gone.

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 28, 2015 at 10:17 am

[Portion removed.]

By the way, the Mitchell Park Library has been open for months now. When will our fair city get around to removing the "No Standing" sign in front of the entrance since the librarian assures us there's really 5-minute drop-off there?

[Portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 10:26 am

Why has the College Terrace Library been left out of all this prosperity ??? CT library hours were recently reduced!
And reduced amongst all the resident love for libraries Staff crows about.

I think its hours should at least be restored to match downtown hours. I see no logic to fixing up the facility and then reducing the communities ability to use it.

Probably a hold over of those that preferred only one library in PA…..please restore hours at the CT branch!

5 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 11:35 am

@Anon - I personally think we should just close the DT and College Terrace libraries and repurpose them.

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 28, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Palo Alto Resident, I respectfully disagree. There are a lot more downtown residents now. Also, with traffic worsening, getting to a non-local library becomes increasingly problematic and will only get worse when El Camino gets backed up with the new bus lanes.

Besides, if they City decided to "repurpose" those libraries, they'd probably turn them into office buildings.

2 people like this
Posted by Richard Nixon
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Meanwhile, watch what we say, not what we do: Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by KB
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Thank goodness! We used to go to Los Altos library instead of PA, because the hours were so much better. But then they imposed a yearly fee on non-residents :-(

It will be great to have the libraries open longer on Sundays -- who in the world thought 1-5 was a good schedule? Plus more evening hours will be great for workers, and older kids who are in school and sports all day.

Now, if we can just get consistent weekday hours, so we're not always guessing when it's open...

3 people like this
Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 28, 2015 at 12:55 pm

This is great news. I'm looking forward to more and longer time at the library!

2 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 1:04 pm

@KB - good news for you and others in southwest PA - the Los Altos library has removed their annual fee, effective this coming July 1. The Los Altos library is lovely, and with the new Safeway in downtown Los Altos, it is very convenient for weekend errands.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

More hours is an excellent move. If we want more money to enable even longer hours I suggest we close College Terrace

7 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 28, 2015 at 1:24 pm

I wouldn't call a 9:00 closing "night owl" hours as someone above stated. However, I welcome the extended hours for our students. 9:30 would be preferable, as Macy's doesn't even close until then.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Consider yourselves lucky you have a library open on Sunday.

4 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 28, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Don't close the busy and friendly College Terrace Library! I don't live in college Terrace but I'm closer to CT than Rinconada or Mitchell Park. It's a VERY long bike ride to either of those libraries, for children and for adults. College Terrace doesn't just serve College Terrace--it also serves Evergreen Park, Southgate, Mayfield and other neighborhoods. And workers find it convenient if they pass CT on their way home from work. We should expand the hours.

10 people like this
Posted by Kerry55
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Great News! Next problem to be solved is getting a book drop off bin so users can drive through, drop off books and not have to park. It is an obvious problem that should have been solved within 1 month of opening!

6 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Yes! Please bring back the drop box at Mitchell Park. I saw a woman on crutches having to hobble up to the return slots. For parents with small kids or the disabled, the drop box is key.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Very pleased about the longer hours, many of us have been complaining about this for many years.

As to having so many libraries, they are not needed. Community centers with hold shelves and checkout desks are all that is needed, of course with drive thru drop boxes. Story time for young children are a worthy thing, but don't have to be a library done thing, any and every community center could have them.

Community space is very different from a library. The shelves at Mitchell Park look very empty to me. I have been told that books have not been removed from storage and some have got lost, not sure if this is true. There were pictures on tv recently from somewhere in the Bay Area of libraries dumping books that are not popular in dumpsters outside the library. Libraries are having to move with the times, and rows of books are not the way to go. Central storage with online catalogs and several book check out spots are the way to go.

1 person likes this
Posted by Love the Library
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 4:45 pm

We like the College Terrace library, just as it is. Please do not change a thing.
The staff is friendly; we can always get books, etc. there, as well as use the other resources. For the most part, it's quiet, even with the child care center and the mini park next door. Noise there last about 10 minutes. Please, please do not change a thing at CT.

We avoid the new Mitchell Park library as much as I can. It's difficult to park, sometimes we have to park in the far section of the park, which is not that bad, but after getting to the library, the noise level is so high that it's hard to concentrate. Even at night, adults are on telephones, and during the afternoons, it's like a middle school playground, and even parents are noisy.

Frankly, we liked the temporary library at Cubberley better. When we must go to Mitchell, instead of saying we are going to the "library", we say we're going "to the Park". It's a Community Center, with books. College Terrace is a library.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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