Budget Message Approval Triggers Planning for Library, Center Openings

Dorian Silva | NeighborWebSJ

Seven Trees Community Center and Library

The San Jose City Council gave unanimous approval to Mayor Chuck Reed’s budget message, giving hope to residents who have been waiting for the city to open four new libraries and a community center promised to them years ago and paid for by property owners.

The libraries – Bascom, Seven Trees, Educational Park and Calabazas – are scheduled to be open by spring, said Library Director Jane Light. Reed’s budget message asked that Bascom Community Center, if possible, be open by early summer. The city anticipates abudget surplus of at least $10 million, but projects a deficit the next year.

Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services staff has had to back off a plan to hire a private operator to open Bascom Community Center. Because it’s a bond-funded building, the city is restricted by the IRS in turning over the building to a private service provider, explained reuse manager Ed Solis.

“City staff will take the lead role” in running the center, Solis said, but could hire nonprofits or agencies to provide, for example, recreation programs or computer classes.

A memo from PRNS Director Julie Edmonds-Mares details the status of the Bascom center and points to Edenvale Community Center, a Redevelopment Agency bond-funded project, which has a short-term agreement with Boys and Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley to be lead operator with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, FutureArts Now and South Valley YMCA.

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Edenvale Community Center

In the case of Edenvale, the city pays utilities, a huge cost-savings to the private operator. Bascom’s opening was approved in last year’s budget but only if it had no impact on the city’s general fund. The $12,500 a month utility cost makes it difficult to negotiate a short-term contract with a private operator, Edmonds-Mares explains.

A solution will likely emerge as the budget process unfolds and city attorneys are satisfied the city has complied with IRS rules, Solis said.

Opening the libraries is a matter of hiring staff, including calling back librarians who were laid off, Light said, as well as providing books and materials. The new libraries will operate under the same schedule as the existing libraries, 4.5 days a week with a shared staff.

“It’s been very hard for people to see fences around brand new buildings,” Light said. “Everybody has been paying for these libraries through obligation bonds since, but these communities haven’t seen the benefits.”

She expects Seven Trees Library, which occupies the second floor of Seven Trees Community Center, to open in January, followed by Bascom Library in February. Educational Park and Calabazas would open in late spring.
Reed had no problem getting council backing for opening the libraries and community centers, along with spending money on gang prevention, crossing guards and health insurance for children.

But the council stopped short of making other commitments proposed by Councilmembers Ash Kalra, Kansen Chu and Xavier Campos, including increasing branch library services from 4.5 days to six days a week, continuing to provide transportation for seniors to community centers for meals, helping Neighborhood Business Associations and hiring 10 more police officers.

“If (budget surplus) projections are right we can afford to take the risk of opening those libraries,” said Mayor Chuck Reed at the Tuesday, March 20 meeting. “But it’s premature to spend money we don’t think we’re going to have.”

Councilmember Ash Kalra disagreed.

“We’re all going to have to decide the highest priorities,” he said. “Let’s establish that right now as we start the budget process. These are all priorities we can agree on.”

A majority of the council agreed with the mayor, but Reed did direct city staff to study the proposals and bring back to the council estimates of how much it would cost to restore the services outlined in the memo, which was supported by speakers at the meeting.

“As a mother and a teacher I want my kids to feel safe at all times,” said Balanca Cancarbajal. “The library is a safe place and there are lots of resources there.”

Transportation to senior centers is important to participants of the senior nutrition program, which provides free meals and social connections.

“Many people can’t drive anymore,” said Sergio Franco. “Many of them live far away and can’t walk to it. “

Councilmembers voting against adding priorities said they preferred to do so through the budget process and after knowing more about the costs.

The small $10 million surplus is “no where near the amount we need to restore services we’ve cut,” Reed said.

  • Seven Trees Community Center and Branch Library, 3590 Cas Drive, in San Jose Council District 7. The 60,000-square-foot building opened in October, but the 20,000-sqaure-foot, second-floor library remained closed. It will provide reading areas, a learning center, computer labs and Internet café. The community center provides a banquet room, fitness center, gym, kitchen, basketball and tennis courts and outdoor projection screen. Cost: $12.4 million
  • The Bascom Community Center and Library is a 40,000-square-foot, two-story building at 1000 South Bascom Avenue, with a community room, multi-purpose room with kitchen, gymnasium, game room, fitness center, youth center, tech center, Internet cafe, children and adult collection spaces, various reading areas, learning center and outdoor area for community events including and movies. Cost: $13.2 million.
  • Calabazas Branch Library, 10,420 square foot at 1230 S Blaney Ave.
  • Educational Park Branch Library, 18,000 square feet at 1772 Educational Park Drive