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Editorial: 'Show us' time on library bonds

Original post made on Jul 8, 2008

Public must be given answers to 2007 library-audit criticisms and "five library" inefficiencies before November bond election

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 9, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (54)

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Posted by Kathy
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 8, 2008 at 3:48 pm

If the Weekly wants to see the auditor's concerns addressed, one way to do that is to support the November Library Bond! It addresses the biggest problem noted by the auditor: outdated, crowded facilities.

In the meantime, I'm sure Diane Jennings will provide the answers Jay seeks...


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Posted by No on the library bond
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 8, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Sorry, Kathy, in order for the auditor's concerns to be addressed, we must vote "No" on the bond. If we vote yes, it will be business as usual--5 branches,operating inefficiently. It is bad enough that the city has already done an end around and supplied funding for the College Terrace branch to be fixed up.
We need a SINGLE modern branch--until a bond is floated for that, we must vote "No" in november.


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Posted by Ray Bacchetti
a resident of University South
on Jul 8, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Having a responsive, efficient, and high quality library system is nearly everyone's goal. Housing it in facilities that make that possible needs increasingly to become another community goal as we approach November. I want to be able to smile with pride when I use them or show them off to friends. The Weekly's editorial raises important questions that deserve thoughtful responses. I've no doubt that such responses will be convincing. The careful stewardship of public resources, especially in tight times, gets no argument from me.


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Posted by Good for real estate
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 12:13 am

As a former high executive at Stanford I assume Mr Bacchetti uses their libraries when he needs to.
Perhaps the thousands of new people Stanford is going to bring in need Palo Alto to have bigger libraries for them and their children.
The chamber of commerce members and associates are the most enthusiastic about this bond, Barton, Espinosa and Klein, and of course Morton. And now Stanford.


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Posted by wondering
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2008 at 1:42 am

There have been many surveys. Every single one of them has shown that our citizens want branches. Where has the Weekly been?

Why now does the Weekly, a newspaper that prides itself on deep understanding of municipal goings-on, hold the library bond hostage to further reports and surveys?

Is the Weekly becoming the old Palo Alto Daily? Is Dave Price' influence spreading?

Stay tuned.

and btw, YES! on the bond.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by what now?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:23 am

Wondering, check out the most recent survey Web Link.

On slide#27, 58% of Palo Altans say: "We should focus our resources on one or two full-service libraries instead of spending money to upgrade 5 different libraries."
On slide#21, 71% say "reducing duplication of facilities" is very or somewhat important.

So, yes, a small minority of our citizens want branches and are holding the whole library system to ransom to keep them.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:55 am

WN, you make a good point. That 58% figure is critical - it is the ONE place in the survey where the respondents were offered a clear choice on the branch question - should we do X or Y? Even better would be if there were price tags attached (maybe next time).

Based on that data, I don't think that any intellectually honest person can say "the survey say Palo Altans prefer branches." They don't - they want what just about every other town already has - a good, sizable, modern library with a solid collection that's open long hours.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:07 am

It seems to me that those who value the branches really want a community center where they can pick up or deposit library materials which are previously pre-ordered. This can be done without a full time librarian staff and full shelves of books. A desk for a clerk and checkout computer and shelves/book depository is all that is needed.

Now the space there can be used for other community activities. A homework/study space for teens, a weekly or bi-weekly story time for young children, a room for community rental or adult classes, and wifi cum internet cafe space with perhaps a latte cart could then be available for the community.

No one has seriously talked about this type of use of the facilities. It makes sense to look at something like this because it makes no sense to me to close the branches and sell the sites to developers as once they are lost they are lost forever. I know that selling the sites may seem a good idea in the short term so that that money could pay for upgrades at the other sites, but I urge everyone to remember that school sites were sold and that decision is now proving to have been erroneous and I don't think the same should happen again.

If staffing the branch libraries and the duplication of materials is the costly part of the branch system, then getting rid of staff and material and providing the valued service would be a compromise that may make sense and may make everyone happy.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:14 am

On slide 27 read the foot note.

This is 58% of the 27% that oppose the bill, so a little over 15% of people surveyed appear to not want branches

On slide 25 you can find almost the opposite statement getting 68% percent of the yes votes or 68% of the 66% yes voters or about 45% of people surveyed.

So by my math a majority does not care either way about branches.
What bond supporters seem to hang onto in terms of branches is demonstrated on slide 17. To get the super majority, they need the branch supporters who are in the minority, but their inclusion does not cause lessen the support of the typical bond supporter.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:19 am

Do we actually know what the wording on the ballot will be? The way the wording is shortened for the bond approval will make a big difference to how it will be perceived and how it can be read by the City if it is passed.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:24 am

RS, I see what you are saying but not sure that analysis is correct. Here is the note you refer to on p 27 (actually a quote of the question asked):

"15. Here are some statements from people who oppose this library bond measure. Please tell me whether you find it very convincing, somewhat convincing, or not convincing as a reason to vote no on the measure. *Split Sample"

I don't believe it means that only those who opposed the bond were asked this question. The "split sample" usually means they randomly chose a portion (usually half) the people to ask, usually in the interest of keeping the survey short. So I believe this result reflects views of those who were for, against, and undecided.

If I misunderstand your point or that wasn't the note you were referring to, please straighten me out.


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Posted by what now?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:31 am

RS, the footnote is:

15. Here are some statements from people who oppose this library bond measure. Please tell me whether you find it very convincing, somewhat convincing, or not convincing as a reason to vote no on the measure. *Split Sample

The 58% value is the reply from *everyone* to this statement not just from those that oppose the bond. So it is a pretty clear statement that the majority of Palo Alto residents don't want branch libraries.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:43 am

You could be right. I may have misinterpreted the slide. In that case.

58% dont want branches. 68% do. Confused electorate?


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:54 am

It's all in how the questions get asked. The reason I like the question on p27 (the 58% result) is that it sets up a choice (though by no means perfectly).

BTW, I'm not saying the pollster was manipulating the questions here. But s/he is a campaign pollster, whose job is to tell the client how to win. What people "really want" was not the goal of the survey.

You might like the Yes Minister bit on how political surveys work Web Link


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Posted by what now?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:58 am

Hi RS, I don't think it is a confused electorate. The 68% response on Slide 25 is in response to the question:
"Over the past ten years, the City has been steadily making improvements to all of Palo Alto's library branches. This bond measure will fund improvements at the last three branches and complete improvements to the library system."

The city has been spending considerable money over the years updating the branch libraries and not updating the two main ones. Even when the two main libraries are the most used libraries. By doing this, they don't need to include branches on the bond measure but everyone's paying for them anyway.

The real problem, as shown in this survey, is that the majority of Palo Atans don't want a branch system but do want the two main libraries updated. That's where all this conflict is coming from.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:01 am

I watched the clip before, very funny.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:33 am

So I am not a fan of branches either, but for me, being for or against branches is not a compelling reason to be for or against this bond. So I'll explain why. The amount that would be spent on downtown is a lot about fixing it for seismic. If the city repurposed the building, that money would need to be spent anyway to make it safe for it's new role. For me then it just comes down to whether I agree with the main and mitchell park projects.

One other thing I notice about the wording the 58% found the argument convincing, but it did not say they were convinced or agreed. I can find an argument convincing without argeeing with it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Will vote YES!
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:49 am

what now, I think you've misread the survey, as has the Weekly

You say that on slide#27, 58% of Palo Altans say: "We should focus our resources on one or two full-service libraries instead of spending money to upgrade 5 different libraries."

That's true, but it's not what comes to mind in those who support the library branches, and the system as it currently exists. You appear to be missing the forest for the trees. Overall, 63% + some portion of 12% undecided voters currently would vote for the library, even _after_ the negatives are brought forward. The pollster clearly said in answer to Mayor Klein's question about support, that we're starting with 67% in favor _of the bond as currently understood_.

The negative questions in a poll are always posed to see how many people they resonate with. It's a _typical_ polling strategy, to see where weak spots lie, in order to inoculate the effort against the opposition. Now that the promotional effort has begun, and we know where the opposition has strength, bond supporters (I'm one of them) will create information streams that help voters understand the value of what's proposed on the bond, and the flaws in the arguments of the opposition.

You say that on slide#21, 71% say "reducing duplication of facilities" is very or somewhat important. That's true, but the question has to do with program duplication of the recreation center and Mitchell Park library. Integrating them into one space to create efficiency is what the question is all about. It's _not_ about the branches. You may want to see it that way, but that's not what the question intends.

I see this as all wishful thinking by opponents of the branch system, who would like to scuttle this bond. They know that the bond won't pass without the branches, because past surveys clearly indicate support for a branch system. _This_ poll is not about the past surveys; it's about how to get the bond passed. That's the difference you're missing.

This bond is going to pass, and it's going to pass with the branches as part of it. I think we will approach San francisco's success last year, with close to 75% voting "yes".

Thank you all for helping me to think more deeply about this, and dig into the survey. Now I'm confident, more confident than ever, in the pollsters conclusions, which say that it's close, but we're entering the campaign in good shape. I'm off to canvassing my neighborhood in support of the bond.



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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:59 am

Ok, Mike is now with us, trolling as usual, under a new guise. Everybody mis-read the poll except him. Best to just ignore, there is nothing there to reason with.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 12:16 pm

I want to keep the branch libraries open and want to have line items on the budget for library maintenance, repair, cost of living raises for staff, etc. We need careful stewardship of existing public resources. People use the branch libraries for more than a community center where they can pick up or deposit library materials.

It would be interesting to ask the people who use the Mitchell Park Library and the other branch libraries if they have ever filled out a library survey. I use the branch libraries and I can see how they are being used, the way libraries have always been used.

What has changed is that a minority want to increase housing units in Palo Alto and want the housing to be dense and multi-storied. This increases profit for a minority of people and decreases the quality of life and safety of residents and explains why some people want large-scale replacement facilities. We need to manage our housing stock wisely instead of adding hundreds or thousands of people to our population. Scarcity of water is the other reason we need to stop these large projects. First we should put in place a way to use the water we have for existing structures and existing farmlands. We don't want to lose our farmlands or our farmer's markets. Finally, do we want some of our tax dollars spent on the expantion of the medical center here, or do we want the expantion located in an area that is not congested by traffic and sits on the border between two cities? I want to spend money on branch libraries used by Palo Alto residents, not a hospital expansion that is used by residents of many cities.


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Posted by what now?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 12:54 pm

RS, I understand the distinction. It would be very interesting to get the actual numbers. (Diane, can they be published as they were for previous surveys?)

In other questions, there were 6 categories. Only 2 categories are reported for this 58% number on slide#27. I'd like to know the percentage of people that found the argument "somewhat unconvincing" or "very unconvincing".

Now, if that number turned out to be 10% - like the 10% drop in the survey when the branch libraries were removed from the bond or the 10% difference between slide#27 and slide#25....talk about a smoking gun!


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Posted by Will vote YES!
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 9, 2008 at 1:15 pm

who is this person, Me Too? How rude!

For your information, I am posting under my own online identity.

My arguments above go right to the point of misinterpretations of the polling data.

In no place on the survey does it say that the majority of people her don't want branches. Where does it say that. Please show me.

RS, I agree with your distinction too. It's a good one, and helps to reinforce my earlier point.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by surveyed
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 9, 2008 at 1:34 pm

WvY,
"You say that on slide#21, 71% say "reducing duplication of facilities" is very or somewhat important. That's true, but the question has to do with program duplication of the recreation center and Mitchell Park library. Integrating them into one space to create efficiency is what the question is all about. It's _not_ about the branches. You may want to see it that way, but that's not what the question intends."

I was surveyed and know how the question was positioned. It may not have been how you intended when you worded the question but it sure came across as being directed at the branch system during the survey. That's how I reacted to it.
If you want to void the question completely, fine, but it's starting to seem that you want to void the whole survey at the rate you're going.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 9, 2008 at 1:42 pm

It's not about age of the Mitchell Library. (Many fine PA houses are just as old, and not being torn down.) It's not about Air-Conditioning. (Many fine PA houses are not being torn down so they will be cooler.) It's not about inadequate books. It's not about checking books out faster at the existing libraries. It shouldn't be about community-center functions, hiding behind library-functions.
Here it really is: 1. "Libraries" are good. 2. This is a "Library Bond." 3. Therefore, it is virtuous to support this new Library Bond. 3a. without fussing about the price of it.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 1:53 pm

"RS, I agree with your distinction too. It's a good one, and helps to reinforce my earlier point."

thanks Mike, but keep in mind that's a distinction that comes from my personal point of view. I'm just playing devil advocate that what the 58% truly represents is not that clear cut, it is also not clear cut the other way either.

I still say that the branch issue for the purpose of this bond is a red herring anyway. It would probably be more useful to let this bond stand on its on and have a separate guidance vote to whether the library system should be continued as branches, if someone can be found that could word the question neutrally. That might be a rare individual in Palo Alto.



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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 2:42 pm

RS, I agree with your point. The bond is not directly about branches - we could close them (or not) at any time. And the poll was definitely not about "what people really want" - it was about how to persuade them.

Other towns also wrestle with the branches issue. The Mass town where we once lived went from 13 branches to 4 when they opened their new library (it was gorgeous) and I understand is now closing 3 of the last 4. That process took about 18 years. Other towns face the same issue - neighborhoods don't want to give up their branches, even though libraries in general are centralizing. It's a painful process and probably not one that PA is good at dealing with.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by carl
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2008 at 8:17 pm

If there is a limited amount of funds available for a community service, then the alternatives and their costs should be clearly stated.

What are the general fund dollars allocated to the library system?
How much does it cost to run each branch library?
How will services be affected by having one or two libraries instead of 4 or 5?


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 8:40 pm

but carl, why do those have to be answered to vote on the bond?
Those are questions for do we continue branches. If you eliminate the downtown money from the bond, it does not eliminate branches. It just means one of the branches does not get updated.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Go libraries!
a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:09 pm

I was surveyed and I heard that question the way WVY did. It was pretty clear. All the other polls say people want branches. The pollster said the poll backs the case for a passable bond. I'm happy, and so are my kids and their nanny.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:15 pm

RS, your point is of course technically correct - the bond is about funding capital improvements, not opening or shutting branches. BUT given the politics, closing branches has been near impossible - and in fact, the last bond failed in part because it did NOT include all the branches.

The only way I can see to force the issue with branches and provide the Council with the needed backbone is to vote done the bond. In that sense, this is a referendum on whether we want to continue to put capital and operating expenses into the branches, or say that things have to change.

It seems from the poll that 58% of the people want to put our wood behind one or two arrows, not five. The bond is the opportunity to send that message.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Go libraries!
a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:22 pm

me too, just a heads up on cities with branch libraries. Many cities are expanding branch systems.

Web Link


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:30 pm

Thanks GL - but that link is just to a Google search for "cities with branch libraries." Was there something in particular to look at?

If you look around our neighbors, they generally have one or two libraries. So in fact do we (Mitchell and Main) but we maintain 3 minor branches. Our former library director pushed hard for one good library, but without success.

My own experience in Newton Mass has shaped my view. They historically had 13 branches (one for each small "village" in the town). In about 1991 they opened a new central library, which was a great success - people came to it and loved it. Within a year the town closed 9 of the branches, with very limited opposition. I have heard that this year they are closing all but 1 of the remaining branches, again with limited opposition. People love the wonderful central library and prefer it to the branches, which frankly were just not very good libraries. I suspect, having seen it happen, that the same would would happen here.


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Posted by Go libraries!
a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Web Link

also...i read up on Newton. The mayor closed the branches as a political ploy, and really took a lot of flak. I don't think your example translates.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:56 pm

Thanks GL - the link is now to vignettes about 6 places, ranging from very rural to big cities like Seattle. Do you think some of these apply to Palo Alto.

I'm not sure what you read about Newton. They recently voted down a tax increase and as a result are closing the remaining branches. I'm not sure I'd call it a "ploy" - they need to save money and think this is a good place to do so. Certainly branches get closed to save money - why else would you close them? And there was opposition, certainly, but from speaking to people in the town, it was a small number of individuals. Most people just use the main library.


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Posted by Go libraries!
a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:06 pm

The point was to show that branches are still popular, in many places. They are not on the table in Palo Alto, that's for sure.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:29 pm

I agree, GL, there are many towns with multiple branches. Mountain View has 1 library, Los Altos has 2, San Mateo has 3, San Jose 17, San Francisco even more. The question is how many is right for us.

I disagree that branches are not "on the table" here. The library bond is in part about how people feel about branches - hence the 10% drop in support if Downtown is left out. I'm looking forward to a spirited discussion of all these issues in the coming months.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Tell you what, I would be willing to vote for the bond if there was also an advisory vote about branches on the ballot.

Seems like that would be the fair way to settle this. If 50% dont support CT and downtown, they close. If 50% do, they stay open.

I dont think there is a chance in hell this would be done, but I still think that would be the right path.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by surveyed
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:22 pm

Go Libraries, Obviously you weren't surveyed or you would realize how silly your comment is.


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Posted by Go libraries!
a resident of University South
on Jul 10, 2008 at 12:08 am

surveyed, My neighbor was, as I (and three neighbors, and my kids) listened on her speakerphone. I loved Terman, and I want Mitchell rebuilt. I know how important Terman was, and would never want to see my neighbors lose a branch.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2008 at 12:12 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Searching for detail on the library system operating budget, I found nothing, but I did find this survey on the budget and it included branches.

Web Link

see the 15th item in the bar chart.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2008 at 2:56 pm

This bar chart is from a February 2003 budget survey -- too dated to be relevant now.

It also shows that people think branch libraries are more important than building inspections, business attraction & retention, building codes, and zoning regulations so it's hard to take seriously.


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Posted by Trollspotter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2008 at 4:12 pm

"It also shows that people think branch libraries are more important than building inspections, business attraction & retention, building codes, and zoning regulations so it's hard to take seriously."

Add yourself to that list.


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Posted by LaughingOutLoud
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2008 at 10:57 am

Didn't Simpson get run out of town for proposing the closure of the lesser used libraries? This is getting ridiculous. Fix Mitchell Park already.


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Posted by How come
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2008 at 11:31 am

Why are you laughing? A small group of zealous supporters have managed to hold up funding unless they get their local project taken care of. I think it is more sad than funny.


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Posted by WhoCares
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 11, 2008 at 11:50 am

Yeah, who cares that we have the most generous library budget in California. Fix Mitchell! We don't need an efficient library system. We want our branches and damn the cost.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Paula Simpson had the good sense to

1. Do her job well by providing the city council with a plan that said, "This is what I can afford on the current library budget." She was backed by her boss, Frank Benest.

2. Leave town when the city council made a "policy decision" counter to her proposal – and counter to fiscal realities.


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Posted by libraryguru
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2008 at 4:38 pm

You are making things up. Your description of Simpson's proposal and the reasons she left Palo Alto are so far from reality that they defy any sense of reality.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Library guru: Please tell us the real reasons Simpson left Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by libraryguru
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Her husband wanted to retire to the Northwest; she chose to accompany him.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 11, 2008 at 6:19 pm

I thought Paula Simpson did a great job under difficult circumstances (dealing with difficult people). Sorry she left.
-from someone who holds the MLS degree...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by aha
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 11, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Now, if only Pat Briggs had such a plausible story.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2008 at 8:57 pm

I also thought Paula Simpson did a great job. Too bad the LAC and city council didn't agree.

Here's the story on Paula's resignation: Web Link

Also see Departing library director a polarizing figure at Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2008 at 10:23 pm

pat, in case you didn't see it

"Simpson, 52, will leave her job this summer, not because of the continuing debate but because she got married last year and she and her husband, a retired astrophysicist, are moving to western Washington state."


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