The choice by the Santa Clarita City Council is not unique, not a first, but it is the one that grabbed the most national attention. Much of the publicity may be attributable to the fact that there was no immediate budgetary crisis threatening the Santa Clarita libraries, while these moves had previously generally arose in the context of a library on the financial brink. Santa Clarita councilmen voted last summer to withdraw from the county library system and convert to city-operated libraries. It then hired out the operation of those libraries to Library Systems and Services Inc., a Maryland-based corporation.
The result was an uproar from a sizable number of local citizens. They believed the quality of service would deteriorate, and savings the council claimed would be realized would not materialize. Some, undoubtedly, felt for librarians and staff, many of whom are likely to either find themselves out of work, or offered jobs at reduced wages. LSSI needs to provide cost savings to justify its hiring, and it appears that employee compensation is likely to be an important source for savings. Something must give to generate both those savings plus the profits LSSI intends to make.
A group known as Save Our Libraries was formed to fight the privatization. They hired legal council and took the city to court. Their first action involved privacy rights. The group claimed that turning over citizens' library records to a private corporation violated state constitutional privacy rights. That suit was dismissed in December. In February, a suit by a private citizen alleging Brown Act violations also went down to defeat. The Brown Act is an open meetings piece of legislation. Finally, in March, a suit alleging another code violation was also dismissed by a judge. This suit claimed that the action by the council was invalid because the city did not have a library board of trustees, and that only such a board could legally contract with LSSI. The suit was dismissed on technical grounds. Barely a week later, the council did appoint five library trustees. Usually in such circumstances, the board simply appoints itself to the positions. Instead, the Santa Clarita council appointed five high school students, though the budget is many millions of dollars. Perhaps high school students will prove more adept at managing public funds than did their parents.
Residents also presented a petition to the council with around 10,000 signatures opposing the change. Some signatures were clearly fake, such as "Fred Flintstone," but it is not clear whether this was a significant percentage, or if the fakes were put on by supporters trying to inflate the number, or opponents attempting to make the petition look phony. Either way, the council was unmoved.
There remains one Save Our Libraries claim on the docket. This one involves the California Public Records Act, designed to assist citizens in knowing what their government is doing. However, this case will not be heard until October, long after the transfer to private management has been completed.