Every so often, the Palo Alto City Council gets itself into a self-inflicted mess that creates frustration and cynicism about government and just makes everyone look silly.
The debate over whether a new name is needed for what is now known as the Main Library when it re-opens after its renovation is such an issue, and is resurfacing for even more discussion at next Monday's City Council meeting.
We suggest the council recognize the folly of its earlier efforts to micromanage this process, adopt the harmless and appropriate "Rinconada Library" name recommended by both the Library Advisory Commission and the Palo Alto Historical Association and declare victory.
Spare yourselves the ridicule that is sure to come if you repeat the tortured discussion from last time and prevent another unneeded community debate.
For inexplicable reasons, the naming of the library seems really important to some members of the council.
Councilmember Larry Klein has had a strong and persistent desire to name the library after a famous, deceased Palo Alto person. Back in September, when this first came to the City Council, surely with the staff expecting a simple adoption of the recommended name, Klein was able to get just enough votes for a crafty motion directing the council's policy committee, on which Klein serves, to either propose the name of a person or recommend retaining the name "Main" Library. The name "Rinconada" or any other name based on geography or history was then off the table, given the wording of the motion.
The vote was 4-3, with Gail Price, Karen Holman and Pat Burt joining Klein, and Greg Scharff, Nancy Shepherd and Greg Schmid dissenting. Liz Kniss, who then chaired the Policy and Services Committee, and Marc Berman were absent.
Then when the policy committee took up the issue last December, with it being obvious that the committee was evenly split, Klein and Price moved to return the matter to the City Council with a recommendation for a new directive back to the committee to come up with the name of a "distinguished person in Palo Alto history" as the new name for the library. That motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with Kniss and Holman voting "no."
So now back to the full council the library-naming issue comes, right back where it started seven months ago and no closer to resolution.
This is hardly what citizens of Palo Alto want our City Council or staff spending its time on.
The council-adopted process for naming city facilities was followed. The Library Advisory Commission, which is appointed by the council, met twice in 2012 to review possible names and to ensure that they met the renaming criteria. It decided to recommend the name "Rinconada," based on the proximity of the park, the fact it is the name of the original land grant for that portion of the city, and due to the name "Main" no longer seeming appropriate since it will not be the largest library, nor will it house the library administrative staff.
The Palo Alto Historical Association gave its blessing in June 2013, believing it to be a historically appropriate name.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with considering the names of individuals, no one has been able to come up with any person who had a major role in developing the city's library system that might make an appropriate option. So instead, some have suggested naming the library simply after famous people who made important contributions to our region, such as David Packard, William Hewlett, Steve Jobs and the like.
Now Klein and Price, "in order to move this matter forward," have sent a memorandum to their colleagues stating they will make a motion Monday night that the library be named after "Palo Alto's most beloved architect" Birge Clark.
This suggestion, seemingly out of nowhere, sets the stage for another long and awkward discussion over what deceased former Palo Alto community leader is more deserving than another for the honor of having a library named after them.
This is the wrong path for naming the new "Main" library and unworthy of any more time. Absent a clear consensus around a person, which clearly does not exist, the Council would be smart to adopt "Rinconada" and be done with it.