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Library, parks supporters announce ballot initiative for infrastructure

A proposed ballot initiative launched Wednesday seeks to invest in San Diego's public facilities to increase educational and recreational opportunities in some of the city's underserved neighborhoods.

The effort to put the "Libraries and Parks For All" community initiative on the November 2022 ballot is being spearheaded by the San Diego Public Library Foundation and the San Diego Parks Foundation.

"There is an urgent need to ensure adequate and ongoing funding for parks and libraries," said Michel Anderson, chair of the parks foundation. "The community is united behind this ballot measure because these public spaces belong to the public, they belong to you and me, and the public deserves better.


"Many of our parks are wonderful, but there are so many others that are falling into disrepair," he added. "Parks are part of the fabric of any great city, and it's only fair that every San Diegan lives near a quality park."

Anderson and other community leaders spoke in front of the shuttered Clairemont branch of the San Diego Public Library, a building constructed during the Eisenhower administration currently closed due to staffing shortages.

According to the group speaking Wednesday, libraries suffer from a construction backlog of more than $50 million, and parks need a minimum investment of $200 million just to make the repairs required to meet basic health and safety standards.

Community leaders spoke in front of the shuttered Clairemont branch of the San Diego Public Library. Nov. 17, 2021.
Jacob Aere / KPBS
Community leaders spoke in front of the shuttered Clairemont branch of the San Diego Public Library. Nov. 17, 2021.

"This ballot measure invests in libraries, which is the same as investing in education and jobs," said Patrick Stewart, CEO of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. "Thousands of San Diego children and adults rely on libraries for free academic programs and internet service, but there is not equitable access to technology if you live near an older branch."

Organizers said the Libraries and Parks for All will be guided by the recently passed San Diego Parks Master plan, which focuses on citywide equity.


Stewart also added that communities which have been historically underfunded for their parks and libraries, like City Heights, would be given extra attention.

“These investments will help to fix long standing issues and reduce historical inequities so that all our communities have access to the opportunities they deserve," he said.

The initiative organizers plan to use a parcel tax — a form of real estate tax — protected by law from being used for other purposes. It is intended to provide revenue for academic programs, homeless outreach at parks and libraries, technology and free public Wi-Fi, safety and security improvements, rehabilitating aging facilities and expanding libraries and parks.

"My years of experience leave no doubt in my mind that San Diego needs a local, sustainable, and protected source of funding for parks and libraries, and this ballot measure will finally make that happen," said Stacey LoMedico, a former Parks and Recreation Department director and assistant chief operating officer who retired in 2019 after a 33-year career with San Diego.

"The pandemic showed us what life was like when parks and libraries weren't accessible, but it was just a temporary taste of what could become permanent if the community doesn't come together to support this voter initiative," LoMedico added.

RELATED: Audit shows funding and program disparities, geographical divide for San Diego recreation centers

Due to a budget shortfall, Mayor Todd Gloria proposed an early budget this year that would have cut down library hours and services. Public outcry — and $306 million in federal coronavirus aid — quickly saw the mayor make revisions in the final budget to maintain libraries.

The parks and library group also announced Wednesday that it opened an official ballot measure committee, the first step in placing an initiative on the ballot. The committee will start fundraising to pay for a signature collection drive to put the plan before voters in the 2022 general election. The measure's text is being finalized, and will be published when the group begins collecting signatures in the near future.