Palo Alto Weekly
Spectrum - June 11, 2008
Guest Opinion: 21st century libraries are good investment
by Bern Beecham
In an earlier opinion piece on the November library bond, Diana Diamond argued that we should cut the proposed bond measure by as much as one-third in the hope that the lower amount might more easily gain voter approval.
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.
Bern Beecham is a former City Council member and mayor of Palo Alto. He can be e-mailed at Bern@Beecham.org.
Posted by Mike,
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2008 at 9:25 am
1) to: "money, money, money", As usual, numbers alone don't tell the whole story. In fact, given our patron visit numbers, and the fact that we have many convenient branches (unlike the other libraries you list) that serve thousands of school kids, daily - in addition to many more thousands of commuters - there is no comparison in cost *efficiency*, and community value gained. Like Mr. Beecham said, this is a great value.
2) to: "no on library bond", In fact, Mr. Beecham presided over Council at onf of the most difficult times in Palo Alto's history, helping to leave Palo Alto with the highest municipal credit rating in the region, and overwhelmingly satisfied residents (as shown nin multiple audits, taken by our award-winning auditor).
3) to: "Resident", In fact, since the onset of the Internet, library circulation and visits have *increased*. Like most institutions, libraries are evolving. You're partially correct in the assertion that library use patterns are shifting, but are missing the fact that many more library services exist today than in years past, and that libraries - in addition to their continued high use as information centers - actually provide *more* services than they did in the past.
In all, Palo Alto's library system delivers the following:
A) outstanding value; it's highly integrated with PAUSD, with plans to do more. Thus, our library increases the value of our local real estate, as school quality is directly related to the value of local real estate. Studies have *universally* shown that there is a positive return on tax dollar investment in public libraries - branch and single library systems, alike. Palo Alto is no different
B) Planned future integration with community recreation services, as our public library takes on the additional task of becoming an information/cultural center - a "third place" - for youth, seniors (soon to be almost 40% of our population); businesses, schools, independent learners, and so on. Imagine what our city would be like without our wonderful library system. We would lose many of the distributed benefits of such a system. As it is, our branch system saves many, many thousands of automobile trips, every year. That alone - in terms of a *real* carbon loading savings to the environment, creates yet *another* value point.
Lastly, those who think that the Internet has replaced the value of public libraries, should think again. The British Library just finished a study showing that the INternet generation is seriously lacking in deep research and synthesis skills, in favor of skimming information. With this development in knowledge, it seems that libraries and other venues that provide opportunities to go deeper into knowledge, with more meaning, in an increasing socially and culturally aware populace, present an unparalleled public institution *opportunity* to increase the public good, as libraries integrate with and scale with technology.
Palo Alto's library bond is the best deal around. The value is there, and continues to grow. To throw this asset away for fear of a $10 additional per month investment (in community, kids, real estate values, integrated institutional savings, etc. etc.) would be tantamount to a public crime. Where else do your public dollars deliver the kind of value spoken to above, and more?
"YES" on the library bond.
Posted by Mike,
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 23, 2008 at 11:11 am
Me Too says "since the LA, while really not very fancy, is head and shoulders above the PA libraries."
Who says? Where are the Los Altos Branches? What part of Los Altos circulation is due to Palo Altans borrowing? Don't forget, Los Altos is *practically* a Palo Alto branch, with heavy exposure to the entire southern part of Palo Alto, and close proximity to Gunn. Los Altos has had *investments* made in its infrastructure; Palo Alto hasn't.
So, here we go again, a library bond naysayer, picking out a few numbers, and trying to build a general case on a house of cards.
It's pretty pathetic to be comparing the capital costs of a *single*, *small* county library - a library that experiences a LOT of circulation from Palo Altans, **because naysayers kept the Palo Alto library from repairing itself in 2002, when they, as a minority, defeated the majority wish in Palo Alto to pass Measure D (another, cheaper bond).
So, we have the VERY SAME people, the usual suspects, who kept Measure D from passing, with Measure D (at the time) FAR less expensive than the current bond (with construction inflation the major reason for the increase in cost), wanting to use the problem that THEY CAUSED (by defeating Measure D, and keeping our library from repair) to whine about the *admittedly poor condition (as shown in our library audit) of the current library, and blame the city for mismanagement.
Let's not forget that the very same naysayers here who are arguing for a defeat of the library bond, and who complain about the Palo Alto library, are DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE for the current condition of our library, because it was THEY who were primary players in defeating (with a MINORITY VOTE) Measure D (the library bond) in 2002.
I have brought this aspect to the bond issue up MANY times. It's going to get a LOT of play as we move toward November, because the 100-or-so individuals who are fanatically opposed to spending money on libraries (even though many of them are HEAVY users of the library) are the VERY citizens who are responsible for the current state of palo Alto's libraries.
These citizens want it both ways. They want Palo Alto not to spend any money on decaying infrastructure (libraries, police buildings, schools, eetc. etc.) and when they have - as in the past - defeat the revenue building attempts to repair that infrastructure, they then follow on with how inefficiently run everything is, and "why shuold we pass a bond for blah, blah, blah".
Theirs is nothing more than fiscal hypocrisy present in their puny arguments. On the one hand they say libraries (and other infrastructure) is poorly managed and that our city is irresponsible in management, THEN they do everything they can to defeat the very revenue bonds we need to repair things. Their attempts are patently transparent, and will NO LONGER WORK. I can't WAIT to BURY this aspect of Grinchdom in Palo Alto politics, once and for all, come November.
There is a difference between measured complaints about any city's management, and the kind of extreme naysaying that this viral crowd has insinuated into Palo Alto politics, with the defeat of Measure D some years ago.
There is a kind of perverse pride taken by certain naysayers in Palo Alto, who snicker at dedicated citizens and the hard-working efforts of city employees.
Normally, the extremists that are at the center of efforts to defeat the library and school bonds are relegated to the periphery of most community's political efforts, but somehow this crowd has managed to infect our city - with the help of C-level journalism from people like Diana Diamond and Dave Price's pathetic ad rags, to generate just enough votes (in the past) to defeat what the VAST majority of Palo Altans want.
So, moving on to this November, Palo Alto citizens will use many tactics to diffuse the naysayers; we're going to bury them at the polls, and trounce them into political oblivion.
Palo Altans want their library repaired, and they want to keep their branches (which, btw, Los Altans use a LOT).
It almmost makes me laugh to think that "me too" could even begin to compare the Los Altos library to our great branch system. Hey, me too, try walking to the Los Altos branch from Downtown Palo Alto, or would you rather use your polluting car to get there? I think we all know the answer.