Irvine Seeks to Leave Orange County’s Library System

The Irvine City Council is making moves to leave Orange County’s library system, saying they’re dissatisfied with the existing system’s lack of equity for the city’s residents.

The council unanimously agreed at a Feb. 28 meeting to send a letter to county leaders informing them of their intention.

Vice Mayor Tammy Kim said during the meeting that Irvine is currently subsidizing the Orange County Public Library system, which has 32 libraries across the county.

“What we’re looking at is a huge discrepancy from what we’re putting in and what we’re getting out,” Kim said. “We are a city that cares about education, knowledge, quest for knowledge, curiosity. We want to continue that [on our own terms].”

Irvine has three libraries: University Park Library, founded in 1975, Heritage Park Library, founded in 1988, and Katie Wheeler Library, founded in 2008.

The three libraries’ operation costs $5 million a year—11 percent of the systemwide cost—yet the city is paying 28 percent, or $17 million, in property taxes every year, according to city officials.

Additionally, the city’s own library buildings have not been updated since they were built, officials said.

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The Irvine City Council holds a meeting in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 26, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Irvine has considered leaving the system for decades, said city manager Oliver Chi during the meeting, and in 2012 the city sent a complaint to the county over the amount of its tax dollars being spent elsewhere in the county.

In response, the library system agreed to set aside some of the extra funds—which currently amount to $28 million, according to Chi—for Irvine.

However, for the past couple of years, Irvine and the county have been disagreeing about how to spend these funds.

Chi said Irvine wants to update its University Park Library whereas the county sets other priorities.

“The real conflict, ultimately, is over who has control of the library system,” Chi said during the meeting. “The county’s commitment is to the whole, [which] makes any localized issues difficult to navigate when the city’s public library system is focused on Irvine-centric libraries.”

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A man walks through the San Juan Capistrano Library in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., on March 7, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Most public commenters at the meeting supported the council’s decision to leave the system. One speaker, however, expressed concern about how the withdrawal could affect the rest of the county.

“I support more affluent cities assisting less affluent cities,” a resident said. “For those of you who claim to be concerned about social justice … have you considered that withdrawal could impact seniors, the disabled, and those for whom English is not the primary language?”

A spokesperson for the Orange County Public Library System was not immediately available for comment.

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