The Ventura City Council voted unanimously on Monday to give up to $15,000 to help prevent the shutdown of a tiny library in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
The council's donation, which will match funds raised by Ventura residents, is the largest so far in the campaign to save the Ventura Avenue Library. The facility may be closed by Ventura County supervisors next month because county officials say they must cut back on services and the Avenue branch is too expensive to operate.
"We need to do this," Councilman Gary Tuttle said in an interview before asking his fellow council members for money. "All libraries are important, but this community needs a library more than most."
"I think it's a tremendous investment in the Avenue and its people," he said at the meeting.
The City Council's gift would be a one-time donation to the county-run library, Tuttle said.
About two months ago, Ventura County supervisors decided to hold off closing the Avenue library for 60 days so community activists could raise funds. Community leaders have until April 1 to raise money for the library's operating costs.
Tuttle is the chairman of a group called Preserve the Avenue Library, which will sponsor a series of fund-raisers. Other members include people from a homeless coalition, the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura and officials from the elementary and intermediate schools in the Avenue neighborhood.
Including the council's donation, about $20,300 has been raised, said Phyllis Brzozowski, a member of the group.
The group's goal is to raise $75,000 to keep the library open four days a week for the next three years while community leaders look for a permanent facility, Tuttle said.
The library, which had its days of operation cut from five days to two in August, has been targeted for closure because of its high operating costs and because it is only about a mile from the E.P. Foster Library in downtown Ventura.
The library, at 807 N. Ventura Ave., is a popular haven for children in the neighborhood and has one of the highest circulation rates among small libraries countywide. It contains about 20,000 volumes and also boasts one of the largest Spanish-language collections among county libraries.
Educators, parents and children say the library is being targeted because it serves a low-income area with a reputation for having one of the worst gang problems in the city.
But county officials say the Avenue Library is being singled out because of budget cuts. Because the real estate market was hot when the lease was negotiated, the $17,000 yearly rent is the highest of all small libraries in the county, said Ventura County Library Services Director Dixie Adeniran.
If the group can raise enough money to cover rent and utilities, the county has tentatively agreed to continue staffing the library two days a week, Adeniran said.
Library volunteers would staff the facility another two days a week, Tuttle said. If the group can raise the money, the Board of Supervisors will pay a relatively small amount--for staffing only--to keep the library open, Tuttle said.
Bill Martin, a retired schoolteacher, was one of about 10 citizens who lobbied the council to keep the library open.
"Regardless of how poor you are, if you have a library, you're very wealthy," he said.