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La Jolla Library being considered in city plan to add child care facilities amid shortage

The La Jolla/Riford Library is among 72 San Diego city facilities being considered for use as child care sites.
The La Jolla/Riford Library at 7555 Draper Ave. is among 72 San Diego city facilities being considered for use as child care sites.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

San Diego officials are considering adapting dozens of city properties, including the La Jolla/Riford Library, for use as child care facilities to address a regional shortage of affordable options.

However, Bill Mallory, branch manager of the library at 7555 Draper Ave., said “nothing has been finalized.”

“Logistics still need to be worked out, including which branches would be providing this service,” he said.

In May, the city’s Department of Real Estate and Airport Management was tasked with assessing city-owned properties for potential use as child care sites — those with a minimum of 5,000 square feet on the ground floor and either existing outdoor green space or a parking lot that could be converted to a playground area.

Of 1,100 city facilities examined, 72 made the final list of possibilities: 12 office buildings, 18 libraries and 42 recreation centers spread across all nine City Council districts.

In addition to the La Jolla Library, three locations in the Golden Triangle area just east of La Jolla are on the list: the North University Community Branch Library at 8820 Judicial Drive, Doyle Recreation Center at 8175 Regents Road and Standley Recreation Center at 3585 Governor Drive.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 535 (roughly 12 percent) of San Diego County’s child care providers closed, increasing strain on the system for the nearly 190,000 children younger than 12 who don’t have a stay-at-home parent and are unable to secure child care, according to a report by the YMCA of San Diego County Childcare Resource Service released in April.

“As we know, child care is lacking in affordability and quality in the San Diego region, and this is a problem that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said City Council member Raul Campillo, chairman of the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. “The reality is that we simply need more child care slots, and we need them to be more affordable for families.

“One of the keys to rebounding from the economic damage caused by the pandemic is to help families find child care that is near their home first and to make it affordable second.”

Child care centers were already struggling prior to the omicron variant. Now a dire situation has gotten even worse.

Across the county, infant and toddler care is particularly hard to find, with less than 20 percent of providers licensed for infants, according to a city staff report.

A report by the San Diego Workforce Partnership determined that 40 percent of San Diego families with two children and living on the median income spend up to 40 percent of their monthly income on child care. A lack of affordable options can hinder parents’ ability to work, negatively impacting the economy as a whole, experts say.

Many community members and child care advocates commended the city’s move, calling it a significant step forward in increasing access to much-needed services.

“The reality is that we’re just losing our workforce because there’s a lack of safe, accessible and affordable child care options, particularly in the infant range,” said Stefanie Benvenuto, a spokeswoman with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Many of La Jolla’s current day care offerings are connected to churches and private schools, as well as some at-home enterprises.

Mimi Toth, who has operated Mimi’s House Home Daycare in The Village for 30 years, said having consistent care benefits both the children and their parents.

“Kids thrive on consistency, so at a time when things are so unsure, they need to know their schedule, who they are going to see, what they are going to do,” she said. “A safe place all the time is huge. Even at a young age, kids learn from each other, so having that stability and opportunity enriches their learning.”

Toth said most of the people who send their children to her care live in La Jolla, but occasionally she gets parents who work in town.

Having different viable options is key because “every child is different,” she said.

“Parents need to know they are bringing their kids somewhere safe,” Toth said. “There are a lot of options out there, and I always think about the child and their personality. Different options work for different kids … so there is not one shoe that fits all kids.”

During its meeting Jan. 12, the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee was urged to allow management contracts to be available to both large- and small-scale child care providers, as well as to continue research on funding options at the state and federal levels.

The committee unanimously approved the real estate department’s next steps, including starting to identify potential operators of the new care facilities. A report may be issued in late spring or early summer.

Staff also will continue working with the city attorney’s office and the Development Services Department to investigate the necessary requirements for zoning and permitting. ◆