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To Keep Libraries Open, Santa Monica Begins Charging for Library Cards

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 30, 2013 -- Standing in line at the library, patrons may have noticed a bulletin announcing a new policy of charging non-Santa Monica residents to hold a library card.

The policy, which went into affect on July 1, requires people applying for a new card or renewing an old one to pay $25 annually if they can’t show that they live within the city limits.

Combined with plans to start charging non-card holders $2 an hour to use the library’s Internet stations -- currently free for up to two hours to anyone with a valid ID -- officials hope the new fees will help the library meet its goal of reducing expenses by more than half a million dollars a year.

“The Library was asked to make a $570,000 adjustment to its budget,” said acting City Librarian Wright Rix. “We made $160,000 worth of cuts in the operations budgets and $52,000 to the materials budget.  The remaining $358,000 we hope to make up in card and Internet use fees.”

Under the new Internet fee system, which will go into effect in the near future, non-card holders will have to pay $2 an hour to use the Internet stations. Card holders, who will still get two hours free, will also have the option of buying more time for the same rate if they want more than two hours a day.

Currently, anyone with a valid ID can use Library Internet stations for free for a maximum of two hours daily.

The budget cuts mean Santa Monica’s libraries are working with less staff and fewer books, DVDs and CDs, Rix said. But, combined with the new fees, the cuts allow Santa Monica libraries to operate without shortened hours, Rix said.

And plans to fully stock and open the long-anticipated Pico Branch Library in 2014 will go uninterrupted.

The budget reduction goal -- about five percent of the Library’s operating budget -- was set after City Manager Rod Gould called on all departments to cut back their budgets earlier this year.

While Santa Monica’s budget is balanced over the next two years, rising pension costs and the end of its Redevelopment Agency (RDA) could put Santa Monica in the red as early as 2017. (“Pension Costs to Put Santa Monica in Red,” May 21)

City Hall has aggressively attacked the pending budget deficit by cutting costs where it can and -- as at the Library -- levying new or raising current fees. (“Santa Monica Faces Impending Deficit with Two-Pronged Strategy,” August 20)

Under that strategy, Santa Monica Airport has begun operating without the usual City subsidy that had relied on after the City Council voted to raise fees on pilots for landing their planes at the century-old airfield. (“Council Raises Landing Fees, Explores Partial Closure of Santa Monica Airport,” May 2)

While $25 a year may be a small price to pay -- especially if it’s an alternative to cutting back on hours -- it may be a burden for Santa Monica’s sizeable homeless population, many of whom rely on the library for free access to the Internet.

That won’t be a problem, Rix said, so long as they can offer IDs with the address of a local shelter.

“Many homeless library users have state-issued photo ID with the address of a Santa Monica shelter,” he said. “This suffices to qualify them for a free library card.”

The new policy, Rix added, wouldn’t apply to WiFi access, database research computers of Word processing stations, all of which are “freely accessible for an unlimited amount of time to everyone."

It's still too early to see what the impact of the new library card fee might have, Rix said.

While the Cerritos Public Library and the Huntington Beach Public Library systems both charge non-resident fees for library cards, neigboring Los Angeles does not.

Will residents of Los Angeles start opting out of Santa Monica's system because of the new fee.

So far, they haven't, Rix said. "Non-resident renewals and applications continue apace," he said.

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