A bill that would rent out library land and facilities as a way to generate revenue is proceeding through the state Legislature as quietly as libraries themselves.
Senate Bill 2919 sets up a pilot program at three libraries in the state where leases of up to 55 years would be granted to lessees selected in a competitive process by the Department of Education. Money from the leases would be deposited in a newly created libraries facility fund to be used for state library programs.
The state Board of Education can select up to five public library land sites as candidates for participation in the pilot program before choosing three. During the identification and selection process, the board must host at least one public meeting in each affected community and foster library and community participation, under the measure.
The bill is scheduled to be heard today by the House Finance Committee. With only minor changes, it already unanimously passed three Senate committees, two House committees and the full Senate.
State Librarian Stacey Aldrich offered comments during the committee hearings in support of the concept.
“In general, the HSPLS supports the intent to identify revenue generating programs to meet the mission of the public library system,” Aldridch told the House committees on Education and Water and Land. “The HSPLS notes, however, that it currently does not hold title to the lands under which the public libraries sit, nor that it has the expertise necessary to guide the HSPLS through a pilot program which involves the redevelopment, and leasing and management of library lands.”
An aide said Monday the program is modeled after the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, where school facilities are used during non-school hours by groups providing educational opportunities and a safe environment for children of working parents.
But one testifier warned of setting a dangerous precedent.
“This bill is another example of gentrification and commercialization of public lands,” said Diane Marshall of Feed the Street, which regularly fed homeless people last year on the grounds of the Hawaii State Library in Honolulu.
“We should not have to pay for rest and relaxation or access to public spaces,” Marshall added in written testimony. “The public should not have to suffer any inconveniences so the state can make more money. The library should not have to generate funds for their own maintenance.”
Sen. Michelle Kidani, D-Mililani (Oahu), the sponsor of the measure, didn’t return a phone call to her office by press time Monday.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, and Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, were among the co-signers on the bill.
Ruderman said he didn’t like the idea that the libraries aren’t being funded sufficiently by the state and have to resort to leasing facilities. But he said there are safeguards in place to protect the public.
“There’s absolutely no intention to charge the public for library use,” Ruderman said. “It’s a way of raising funds for library programs.”
Rep. Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, is one of three representatives who voted with reservations on the measure. Onishi said Monday the bill isn’t clear on what it hopes to accomplish.
“What exactly is possible? Are they looking at libraries that are not needed, to rent them out to raise revenue?” Onishi asked. “Or are improvements needed that someone can help pay for? Are they thinking of putting in a Starbucks? … It’s very unclear as to what is possible.”
Ruderman and Onishi said they’re working to get new libraries in their districts. Ruderman said a Puna regional library is sorely needed, while Onishi said he’d like to see a Keaau community library to replace current public libraries that are on school campuses.
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