SANTA CRUZ RESIDENT Ron Pomerantz stands to speak against the library closures. Citizens unhappy with the decision packed the room during the comment session Monday night. Photo by Prescott Watson

Despite community opposition, four libraries in the Santa Cruz area are at risk of being closed.

Last week, the Library Joint Powers Board (LJPB) held a public hearing at the Louden Nelson Community Center to discuss four options to combat present budget cuts. Community members voiced their opinions and concerns about the possible closures.

During the board’s meeting this Monday, a controversial vote was postponed on whether or not to close any of the 10 branches in the Santa Cruz area. Over 100 community members attended, and people unable to find a seat stood around the chamber’s doors to listen in.

The town hall-style meeting at the City Council Chambers with the public lasted well over three hours. With an overwhelming amount of support from the public for the branches at risk, the LJPB voted unanimously on a motion to reconvene in three weeks with a new subcommittee. This subcommittee will work towards a compromise with the options presented.

Board member and supervisor Mark Stone spoke of the importance of reexamining the reports with new financial data in mind.

“We need to step very carefully,” Stone said. “We need to do it with information that we have confidence in and info we know is the best that we can have.”

A community task force with board members, citizens and library staff published a final report two weeks ago, detailing four models that could handle the necessary cuts.

In 2008, Measure R passed, extending a quarter-cent tax to provide for Santa Cruz County libraries. This is due to expire in 2013.

The extended tax has become insufficient, and the library is now in financial danger.

“In 2007, library financial projections indicated that because expenses were rising faster than revenues, significant library budget deficits would occur within a few years,” according to the final report.

Members of the board have been trying for months to find a way to cut spending. If policies remain unchanged, it was projected that the city would lose $6 million over a course of five years.

Felton, Garfield Park, Branciforte and La Selva Beach are all smaller library branches. Two of the four proposed service models, A and D, would close these branches.

Models B and C would keep all branches open, but they would all be open for fewer hours. Models A and B propose using branches for different specialties, such as technology or genealogy and local history.

Diane Cowen, local branch manager of the Garfield Park library, said she reluctantly supports closing her branch.

“Personnel [salaries] are our biggest cost,” Cowen said. “The longer we try it [to keep this branch open], the longer it will erode.”

City council and LJPB member Katherine Beiers was upset at the discord between library staff and the public.

“What I heard basically was two people speaking in favor of model D — a library employee, and a person on the task force who wrote that model,” she said. “And I think that everybody else that I could classify was here for model C.”

Robley Levy, a former second-district supervisor of 12 years, explained during public comment how important the branch libraries are.

Levy said: “The importance of this community connection, the reality that is a system that serves a variety of needs, really should promote the keeping of the branch system to serve the public of this community.”