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Rush to judgment on library privatization?

The opponents of the privatization of the Escondido Library have claimed from the start that the City of Escondido has made up its collective mind ahead of time to privatize that venerable institution.

At first, I was inclined to think that this was a little too much “conspiracy theory,” but I’m detecting in the hurried pace of the approval of this project signs of “let’s get this done” before the public has a chance to really get riled up about it.

As our story on the front page points out, when we inquired about doing a story on library privatization in May I was told: “At this point, this proposal is not even a proposal yet.”

Fair enough, but as of this writing, the city council will tentatively take up the issue on August 23.

Given the snail’s pace that most city business progresses; given that any major proposal takes at least a year from introduction to council vote (for example, the process to bring BMX to one of the city’s parks,) the pedal seems pretty well floored.

It is unfortunate that opposition to this project is being framed by the opponents as kind of a mission (I would never dare say crusade) of every left-leaning Democratic organization in town. That’s fine. They have their causes, as the right has its causes.

But when you frame the argument like that, you invite the other half of the electorate, and maybe even the majority, to exclaim, “I don’t want to have anything to do with these guys,” and so the public library supporters lose half their potential allies, and alienate all but one member of the city council.

This strikes me as poor tactics and impractical politics.

The fact is that almost EVERYONE in Escondido loves their library. It is the most used city facility by a large margin. It’s not a political issue.

But the tactical blunder could lay with the council if they don’t put the brakes on this proposal and give everyone lots of time to make their points to the council. Doing all this in one meeting suggests a rush to judgment.

If the city does decide to privatize its operation, that is something that will be hard to reverse. I can’t see it ever happening. Volunteers will probably abandon the facility in droves—at a cost that is impossible to calculate.

On the other hand, the city has to come up with something like $20 million in the next four years to make up for rising costs of CalPERS. From that vantage point the $400,000 that could be saved annually by privatization must look mighty appealing.

It’s a tough choice and one that all of the stakeholders need to be allowed have their say on. It’s a discussion that should take several months in the full light of day.

The city council should decide wisely because it’s not all that long until the election year of 2018.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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