Moments after Barack Obama concluded his victory speech on Tuesday, Measure N supporter Megan Swezey Fogarty shouted, "Yes we can … build a new library!"
Cheers erupted from a crowd of about 40 in a south Palo Alto home. By dawn the win was official, with 69.52 percent of Palo Alto voters supporting a 30-year, $76 million bond for major library improvements to Main and Mitchell Park libraries.
The final vote tally, reached sometime in the early morning hours today, was 16,612 to 7,282, well over the 2-to-1 ratio (two-thirds majority) required for approval. The totals are subject to final certification.
The results move Palo Alto off literally decades of deadlock that have stymied visions of better libraries as residents debated the merits of a branch-library system vs. a single large library -- a debate that originally took shape in the mid-1920s when much of south Palo Alto (the old Mayfield area) was annexed.
For Fogarty and library-campaign leader Alison Cormack, early results were reason enough for jubilation: Three city's library seemed headed for improvements.
"This is a wonderful result," said Cormack, leader of the "Yes on Measure N" effort.
As of 2 a.m. Wednesday, election results from 31 of the city's 57 precincts had been reported, showing 69.44 percent of the voters supporting Measure N. There was no explanation for the vote-count delay from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office, which some noted has been chronically late in tabulating votes for years.
The measure would fund improvements to three of the city's five library branches. The chronically overused Mitchell Park Library would get the bulk of the renovations, including a new, 15,000-square-foot community center to replace the aging existing center.
The city's Children's Library has been renovated and expanded using budgeted and donated funds, and the small College Terrace branch is earmarked for seismic and other upgrades.
The Mitchell Park library would be combined with the Mitchell Park Community Center into a new building adjacent to the existing buildings, long criticized for being shabby and inadequate.
The Main Library would be expanded by up to 4,000 square feet get new meeting rooms and expanded space for its collection. The small Downtown Library branch would get seismic and fire safety upgrades and improved access for disabled users.
Cormack and more than 100 volunteers have been lobbying city residents and leaders to fix up the dilapidated facilities for more than a year. On Tuesday, dozens of the volunteers tracked election results at the Maplewood Drive home of campaign volunteer Susie Thom.
Though visitors started drifting off well before even half of the city's results came in, most had a good feeling about the final tally. John Melton, treasurer of the "Yes on N" campaign, said volunteers succeeded in sending out a message that the city's crumbling libraries urgently need to be repaired. He said the city vetted its plan very carefully before submitting it for public approval.
The campaign's biggest fear, he said, was residents getting scared off by the dismal economy.
"Our hope was that Palo Altans understand that the economy goes up and down," Melton said. "That's how economies work."
Though some voters interviewed at polling places Tuesday said they voted against Measure N because of the economic downturn, many said they supported the measure.
Frank Holland said he frequently visits Mitchell Park library and is happy to support the improvements.
"The library is run down and needs a lot of repairs," Holland said. "I think this is a good investment."
Council Member Sid Espinosa, a member of the committee promoting Measure N, said the project had been one of the council's top priorities since last year's election.
Espinosa was one of many city officials and community leaders to attend Thursday's post-election party at Thom's house.
The measure appeared to be heading for victory despite months of stiff opposition from a few critics who maintained that the plan is poorly designed and, at $76 million, too costly. The bond would cost city residents $28.74 per year per $100,000 assessed valuation.
Critics such as Wayne Martin, Pat Marriott and Richard Placone urged city leaders to consider scrapping the city's branch library system in favor of one large library to serve the entire city.
On Tuesday night, with support for Measure N at nearly 70 percent, Marriott said she has major concerns about new costs creeping up down the road.
"Is there another shoe ready to drop at some point?" Marriott asked. "Where will the money come from the pay for staff, operations and technology?"
She also said that if Measure N finally passes, Cormack deserves to be congratulated for doing a "remarkable job" in pushing for her objective.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at [email protected]