Santa Cruz library board delays suspension policy changes

J.M. Brown

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   11/05/2012SANTA CRUZ — The library board agreed Monday to push two controversial issues to its Dec. 5 meeting to get legal advice on a patron suspension policy and replacing a citizen board member.

The proposed patron policy changes allow for staff to suspend someone for up to a year after a series of warnings.

Current rules allow only for a 30-day suspension, after which the next step was to seek a temporary restraining order. Staff now would be able to suspend a patron up to six months or a year after a fourth violation of conduct rules, and there are ways to appeal.

The changes also ban using the library for sleeping. Landers said the rule is not meant to punish those who doze off while reading, but rather those who come to sleep for long periods of time. The new rules also empower staff to remove unattended items, such as backpacks.

The rules also clarify provisions for animals — dogs or miniature horses — that provide emotional support to patrons. The proposed rules would require staff to ask what kind of service or support the animal provides.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ellen Pirie objected to the rule, saying the question could violate personal privacy by forcing a patron to disclose a disability.

“I agree you need to ask, ‘Is this a service animal?’ It’s the next step that I’m not sure is wise,” Pirie said.

Landers said identifying the purpose the animal services reduces the city’s liability if the animal injures someone else.

The library also updated the language used on a flier staff can hand to someone who has a strong odor, a piece of paper that on one side urges the person to leave and on the other provides information about free shower and laundry facilities at the Homeless Services Center. The new language tells the person their odor ‘is a violation of our rules of conduct,” a point Landers said interferes with others’ use of the library.

Landers estimates staff hands out a flier once or twice a week at the downtown branch.

Landers said there has been a major improvement in the atmosphere around the branch since the city hired private security guards to patrol the library and City Hall. People have often congregated outside, sleeping, smoking or being loud. There have been problems inside too, including a man staff caught disrobing in the stacks months ago.

Monday, the board also debated the process for replacing citizen Leigh Poitinger, who has represented Santa Cruz. Pirie objected to specifying that a seat be named specifically for the city, saying the library’s bylaws only state that the board’s three citizen seats be geographically diverse.

The board decided to table the matter to get a ruling from the city attorney about a motion passed in 2005 that some believe required city residency for one of the seats.