The problem with her argument is that it assumes there is a specific amount voters are willing to spend for libraries. I think voters could reject a $10 million bond for libraries if they thought the money was going to be poorly spent.
On the other hand, they have approved $100+ million bonds when they think it's a good investment for our community. After all, Palo Alto voters approved a $143 million school bond in 1995 and just approved a $378 million school bond last week.
Why do we support our schools? Because we believe that excellent schools are essential to the fabric of our community.
The proposed $72 million library bond for this November — which will build a new library and community center at Mitchell Park and modernize the aging Main and Downtown branches — doesn't need "pruning" because it is by any measure a very good investment.
Modern, up-to-date libraries are as essential to Palo Alto's fabric as our excellent schools — even in the Internet age. But Palo Alto ranks dead last out of the 10 Peninsula libraries rated in a survey by the city auditor. Our facilities are cramped and dilapidated and there's not enough room to expand the collection.
In spite of the Internet, Palo Altans are checking out more materials from our libraries than ever — a 45% increase in just the last six years. But our 50-year old facilities aren't big enough to handle the increase in circulation and visitors — or to meet the changing needs of our community.
The fact is, the modern library can and should be an intellectual and cultural center of our neighborhoods. It should provide meeting space that can accommodate everything from storytime for pre-schoolers ... to homework space for teens ... to work spaces for the increasing numbers of people who work from home ... to lecture spaces for authors' book talks.
It should also have modern lighting and electrical outlets to allow for patrons with laptops. While we have already renovated Children's Library and will renovate College Terrace Library. Sadly, we lack these basics at Main, Mitchell Park and Downtown libraries.
Communities all over California have recognized the value of modernizing and expanding libraries, many of which were built for the Baby Boom generation in the late 1950s and 1960s. Here are just a few examples:
* Mountain View (1997/renovated 2008).
* City of San Jose (2000-2007).
* Saratoga (2003).
* City of Santa Clara (2004).
* Cupertino (2004).
* City of San Mateo (2006).
* Morgan Hill (2006).
* Milpitas (under construction now).
Spending tax money on libraries is a good investment for our future. Spending too much tax money on libraries isn't just a bad investment, it's bad judgment.
And on this point, Diana Diamond had her numbers wrong. You can't compare the projected dollars that would be spent in 2009-2010 if we pass the library bond with dollars that were already spent in 2006 and 2007 on a library in San Jose. That's apples vs. oranges.
A recent analysis done by city staff — all in 2008 dollars — shows that the projected cost of construction of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is approximately $460 per square foot. That puts it right in the middle of the five different recent Bay Area library projects studied — which range from $413 per square foot at San Jose's Santa Teresa branch to $561 per square foot for the San Mateo Library.
The proposed bond is a good value for our tax dollars.
Rather than modernize our libraries with a piecemeal approach, it makes sense to fix the Main and Downtown branches at the same time as we are rebuilding Mitchell Park. Current ballpark estimates are that the average annual cost of the bond for a Palo Alto homeowner would be less than $170, (and the net cost for the majority of taxpayers who get an income tax deduction would then come down to about $110). This is a reasonable amount to pay for improving all of our libraries.
There are no frills or extras proposed in this bond. City staff did a good job of sifting through the community's input to develop a solid plan to bring our remaining three libraries into the 21st century.
I hope the voters of Palo Alto will support this solid investment in November.