JetBlue’s departure from Long Beach will mean more than the loss of free carry on bags and in flight snacks—it will also mean less revenue from fines for late-night flights, which could impact the city’s libraries.
The city’s noise ordinance governs everything to daily flights to hourly noise allotments, and limits commercial flight activity between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
JetBlue had become such a habitual violator of that policy that it entered into a consent decree with the airline in 2003, resulting in the airline paying fines instead of facing the city in court for every violation. The agreement generated hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, which were sent to the Long Beach Public Library Foundation.
In 2019, the last full year of data available, the city’s consent decree generated $532,000. In 2018 it brought in over $1 million. However, with JetBlue’s announcement that it is ending operations out of Long Beach starting in October, that money will largely disappear.
Long Beach Director of Library Services Glenda Williams said Tuesday during a budget hearing that the loss of money could impact the library network’s funding for book and online material purchases. Williams said the current budget of about $700,000 is about one-fourth of what would be normal for a city the size of Long Beach.
Williams estimated that the loss of JetBlue’s fine money could equal between $400,000 and $600,000 annually. The library budget is expected to be about $15.1 million in the coming fiscal year.
Councilman Daryl Supernaw said he was surprised to see JetBlue listed in the budgetary report related to the library, and offered a rebuke of the loss of fine money being seen as “a challenge.”
“I seem to recall warnings to not make this fine money part of the structural funding for the library,” Supernaw said. “The loss of the JetBlue fines pales in comparison to the challenges of the neighborhoods impacted by these late night flights where those fines were accumulated.”
Williams said the library never built the funding into its structural budget, but the annual allocations from the foundation nearly doubled the funds available to buy print and online materials. The proposed budget for the coming fiscal year has about $677,000 set aside for those purposes.
“It’s never been a given, we knew this funding could go away at anytime,” Williams said in an interview Wednesday. “We were fortunate to have it for this long.”
Having the JetBlue fine money has allowed the library to grow its book collection and its online offerings, which has been useful during the current health pandemic since the city’s libraries have been closed to the public.
While some physical books need to be replaced because they’re outdated, others simply have to be replaced because they’re worn or damaged, Williams said.
“The ones the kids handle don’t last as long as the adults,” Williams said. “Not always, but little ones really do enjoy their books.”
While the city’s library’s are bracing for cuts in the coming years, this year could see an expansion of services. The three flagship locations—Billie Jean King, Michelle Obama and Mark Twain—could switch to operating seven days a week.
“They have the biggest collection, the most resources, the capacity for the most programs and events, the best meetings spaces and are located in neighborhoods with high need,” Williams said.
Expansion of those libraries’ hours were scheduled to come at the expense of smaller branch libraries, which operate three days per week—however, Mayor Robert Garcia said during a press conference in early August that he would work with staff to keep those other libraries open their normal five days per week.
Doing so would require city officials to find $250,000 in another department or from within the library to accomplish both.
Overall, the library stands to lose about $100,000 from the budget that was adopted by the City Council last September. Williams said that the library budget looked bleak before the pandemic and that the difficulties facing the library this year would likely extend into future years despite library usage trending up.
However, limiting cuts to the library and the future, or potentially increasing its slice of the fiscal pie in future years will depend on the City Council. Williams said she hoped the library will be viewed as a valuable resource that can help the city meet its equity goals which include closing the city’s digital divide and a recently released reconciliation plan that calls for greater investment in city libraries, among other things.
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