With orange balloons and juice to match, the campaign to renew Palo Alto's libraries — with a bond measure — kicked off officially Friday morning outside the Mitchell Park Library.
City officials had previously estimated an $80 million bond measure would be needed, but the figure has been reduced to approximately $74 million, with an additional $5 million for furnishings and other costs — which would be privately funded — according to Alison Cormack, chairwoman of the Better Libraries for Palo Alto campaign.
Library Director Diane Jennings said the measure's size hasn't been determined yet and could be change if the City Council opts to use uber-environmental construction methods or alter the scope of the projects.
The council is expected to receive the results of a recent poll of 600 Palo Altans and decide whether to place the bond measure on the November ballot at its July 7 meeting, Jennings said.
The money would be used to construct a new combined Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, expand and restore Main Library and revamp the Downtown branch.
A November bond measure is expected, however, and campaign organizers have already raised $50,000 toward their goal of $120,000, Cormack said Friday.
They have also retained Google chili chef Ray Nottie to cook for the Better Libraries for Palo Alto booth at the Chili Cook-off July 4 at Mitchell Park.
The campaign will focus on educating voters about the condition of the library system and the city's plans to revamp it. Because a massive turnout is expected in November, many who are unfamiliar with libraries are expected to vote, former councilman and campaign Vice-Chair Bern Beecham said.
The measure needs two-thirds support to pass, unlike the recent school bond measure that required only 55 percent approval.
It will cost about $25 per $100,000 of assessed property value, or about $160 for a house with an average Palo Alto assessed value of $644,000.
The condition of Palo Alto's libraries is so inferior to surrounding communities that former Auditor Sharon Erickson expanded the scope of a recent audit to include facilities.
"Palo Alto libraries are in poor condition. During the course of our review we visited 10 nearby libraries. None of the libraries we visited was in as poor a condition as Palo Alto's libraries," she wrote.
Beecham said Palo Alto has "Sputnik-era libraries." The Mitchell Park library, the most popular, was built in 1958 and is much too small and outdated for current users, campaign supporters said.
And technology hasn't dampened use of libraries in Palo Alto, whose circulation figures and visitor tallies continue to grow, supporters said.
The group created a Web site with a Frequently Asked Questions section at: http://www.betterlibrariesforpaloalto.com .
If the bond measure passes, library supporters intend to raise the estimated $5 million for furnishings, equipment and other materials for the new space that can't be financed with a bond measure, Cormack said.
The city had originally considered placing two bond measures on the ballot, but decided to pay for the proposed public safety building on Page Mill Road by borrowing money itself after preliminary polling found insufficient support for a bond measure.
The July 7 council meeting is expected to begin at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.).