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Saving a Public Library

"In Salinas California, leaders of the broad-based organization, Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA), refused to accept that the closing of their public libraries was 'fated' to happen. Indeed their faith in the democratic process and in the story of Salinas as the home of literary giant John Steinbeck propelled them into action that recognized the values of both short-term restraints and longer-term debate and negotiation. In early 2005, when the city council voted to close the three city libraries to save money, short-term negotiations focused on private fundraising to keep the libraries open for limited hours. At the same time, COPA leaders began negotiating with the city council to declare a state of emergency, permitting them to place a half-cent general fund sales tax on the November 2005 ballot. Measure V, as it was called, proposed to fund the general city services such as police, fire, libraries, parks, and recreation. COPA leaders educated voters on the issue and helped turn them out in record numbers to the polls, where the tax measure won by 62% - even though three previous measures had failed to pass. The funds generated will provide an estimated additional $120 million to the City of Salinas over the next ten years. 

The difference between Measure V and its failed predecessors hinged on the conversations and negotiations of the organizing process. In our experience, people are willing to increase their own taxes if they see the increase as being in their self-interest. Self-interest, properly understood, is not a narrow matter of dollars and cents, but includes a broader understanding of the common good."

Rebuilding Our Institutions by Ernesto Cortes, Jr., Acta Purblications, 2010.  Cortes is co-executive director of the Industrial Areas Foundation. 

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