Architect’s rendering of the proposed new West Branch Library. Architects: Harley Ellis Devereaux

A special joint meeting of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) and the Landmark Preservation Commission tonight will consider the final environmental impact reports (EIR) on the South and West branch libraries and their planned demolition. The plans approved by the Board of Library Trustees for new branch library buildings are the subject of a lawsuit between the city and Concerned Library Users (CLU), which has called for renovation of the existing buildings.

The staff reports to the ZAB recommend both the demolitions and the plans for new buildings. The West Branch project would expand the library from its current 6,230 sq. ft. to 9,400 sq. ft. The South Branch project would increase the size from the current 5,400 sq. ft. to 8,656 sq. ft.

The joint meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, is the latest in a long sequence of meetings where the branch library plans have been considered. The initial study on the environmental impacts for the South branch at 1901 Russell Street was released last June. The initial study for the West branch at 1125 University Avenue was released last September. In September, the city decided to do a joint EIR for the two branches.

Councilmember Darryl Moore is planning a rally outside the City Council Chambers in two weeks, on April 26, in support of the plans for new buildings at the South and West branches. According to Moore, there has been no progress on a settlement of the lawsuit with CLU.

“They are unwilling to budge,” Moore said. “There are a lot of people who aren’t aware of the lawsuit. It may prevent us from building some of our branch libraries.” He said the rally, in advance of the next meeting of the City Council, is designed to “show our disdain and disappointment” with the small group of people involved with the lawsuit.

Sketch of the alternative, renovated West Branch Library. Architects: Todd Jersey Architecture

CLU and the city settled part of the lawsuit in December, following the city’s decision to complete the full EIR being considered tonight. CLU and the city have not settled on CLU’s contention that the city cannot use funds from the $26 million Measure FF bond to demolish the branches, rather than renovate the existing buildings. In January, CLU presented alternative plans for the branches, by Todd Jersey Architecture. The alternative plans are also supported by Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.

According to the ZAB staff reports, the Todd Jersey Architecture alternatives are both over budget and would provide less space than the new plans. Both alternatives are also non-compliant with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation, according to the staff reports.

Advocates for the new branch libraries are concerned that delays will mean the libraries won’t get built. Karen Hemphill, a Berkeley school board director, lives near the south branch.  “I have a library card and so do my sons,” she said. “We used to use the South Branch Library but we outgrew it.” Hemphill said the branch is “very cramped”.

“Just because the building is old doesn’t put it in the category of a community treasure,” Hemphill said.  “I really hope the proponents of this lawsuit think about what could be the end result of this. If their actions will mean that south and west Berkeley will not have a resource that can deal with 21st-century library needs they need to take a look to see if it’s worth the issue.”

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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94 Comments

  1. It seems to me that by voting to demolish the South and West Branch Libraries, the LPC and the ZAB have simply broken the law. Here is the wording of Measure FF, which the voters approved and which these two agencies are therefore supposed to implement.

    “Shall the City of Berkeley issue general obligation bonds not exceeding $26,000,000 to renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries, but not the Central Library, with annual reporting by the Library Board to the City Council?”

    No mention of demolition.

  2. Ben,

    I am in favor of demolishing my local south branch library, I also happen to know that many of the most vocal opponents happened to also be folks of color.

    Your assertion suggesting ” a racially tinged extortion scheme” is unfair, inaccurate and dishonors the democratic process.

  3. It is important to note that the rally to support the libraries originated in the affected community. These are people with a vested interest in resolving the structural educational inequities here. When they learned of Judith Epstein’s, attempt to subvert the will of the people through a racially tinged extortion scheme, they reacted with appropriate indignation. It is They who signed petitions, had meetings and have now organized the rally. It is a shame that people of color are being forced re-fight battles that we thought were long settled, but rest assured, we will win them again.

  4. Ha ha! Yeah, I wonder why Thomas Lord doesn’t challenge people making statements like those?

  5. I am sure that they used that language because they knew it would be easier to get a bond passed for “renovating” libraries than for demolishing and rebuilding libraries.

  6. “which means demolition and rebuilding can go ahead”

    I think it probably means that the lawsuit will go ahead.

    The court will decide whether Measure FF really meant that the money would be used for renovation when it said the money would be used for renovation. The answer seems obvious to me.

  7. “[which is probably why he moved back to europe:)”

    He moved back to Europe to work with Prince Charles’ foundation, which is famous for promoting TRADITIONAL architecturre.

  8. “[which is probably why he moved back to europe:)”

    He moved back to Europe to work with Prince Charles’ foundation, which is famous for promoting TRADITIONAL architecturre.

  9. Lucky you didn’t advise Thomas Jefferson when he was building Monticello. You would said: “Why build a renaissance looking building in the 1700s?”

  10. The City’s response to the TJA claim makes the over-budget claim. It’s pretty debatable how they arrived at that but I suppose ultimately that’s for the court or the negotiators to sort out. It also makes claims such as the TJA plan for West being “essentially the same” as the alternative the City considered when even a quick glance at the plan shows how very different the projects are.

    What I don’t see, and perhaps you can give a page number? Any claim that TJA has less space than the demolish and build plan.

  11. Not quite, at least as East Bay Express reported it. The zoning ordinance change was repealed and the scope of the EIR being conducted for Claremont and North was expanded. The city conceded the merit of that part of the suit.

  12. Yes, Sharkey.You are correct. As stated in the EIR the CLU proposals are overbudget and provide less space. The Todd Jersey plans are about 50% more expensive than the city’s plans, according to the EIR.

  13. The library foundation did not write the language. It was written by the city attorney. The library foundation simply raises money to help your public library succeed and serve.

  14. The city made concessions in the lawsuit, i.e., settled part of it, because that part involved demanding that an EIR be done, and the city was already doing it. It was not a concession of the lawsuit’s merit, it was that the portion addressed by the settlement was no longer relevant.

  15. The city has already spent $9K to pay CLU’s lawyer in order to settle part of CLU’s suit. I don’t think that’s a good use of taxpayer money, but the only way to get rid of part of the suit. Some would call it extortion.

  16. There is only one person’s name on the lawsuit as a plaintiff. When there are opportunities to testify, three or four people show up, one of them a guy from San Francisco who claims he runs an organization that cares about libraries for everyone. I think his name is Wharton or something like that. If CLU does have many members they certainly aren’t out there pushing their cause.

  17. Both boards voted 7 to 2 or 8 to 1 on all issues: approving the Final EIR for both south and west, taking no action by the LPC to protect either building from demolition, and approving the use permits for both which means demolition and rebuilding can go ahead

  18. Exactly. In 1900 there were many skilled artisans who could do stone and tile work cheaply and well. Now such things are sadly rare, and yes – they cost a lot. A lot. You would not get that sketch. You would get its bones with cheap materials used instead to VE the look down to budget. Then everyone would complain that funds were not used well and wasted on multiple rounds of design.

    The current design seems fine to me. Just build the damn thing and give the people of west Berkeley a better, bigger library. One that doesn’t have to tart itself up in faux-19th century cladding.

  19. I’m involved in three commercial remodels right now. Remodels sound good on paper, but are very difficult. Remodels typically involve many aesthetic and functional compromises to accommodate existing conditions. And frequently they are more expensive than new work. To make that series of compromises out of necessity, or to save something like Penn Station I can see. To do it because a few people don’t like the project is misguided.

  20. Looking at the adult reading room at South, and imagining it without the blocked windows and without the horrible lighting and other additions… and looking at the outside… I think there is some serious value there and that it is a mistake to treat the building as disposable.

    Looking at the language of FF vs. the plan (renovation vs. replacement), I think that we can see shoddy planning and implementation re South and West and I think it is proper to try to force the City to implement things properly.

    Looking at the sloppy work done for South and West and the active use of the FF funds for North and Claremont — and how that jeopardizes the funding West and South can realistically expect — I see misplaced priorities in the planning process that have short-changed South and West.

    Looking at the CLU alternative plans, though I’m sure they are not above criticism, I think there is a pretty strong case that censuring the City here can lead to better branches than those the City is currently planning.

    And looking at the shameful ways that some of the elected and appointed officials are defaming CLU, I have another item to add to my list of why certain bums should be thrown out of office.

  21. Bruce, I’ve appreciated your comments but I still am not convinced I can share your position, which seems to be that the existing proposal be rejected. I’m not quite sure where you’re coming from. Can you clarify whether you think that the South Branch building itself has historical/cultural value or that a better design would better serve the community? Or are you just so upset with the process that you think the proposal should be rejected as a way of censuring the actors involved?

  22. well…there are progressives in Berkeley as anywhere else but i would not say that Berkeley is particularly progressive in terms of its politics or planning. No forward thinking going on in planning.

    You misunderstand my old friend Chris Alexander whom I studied under many years ago. His theories are wonderful and if you have seen his [very few] built works they are wonderfully modern. He was all about re-descoving human scale and understanding what was valuable in traditional building methods and materials. He never wanted us to blindly copy any style but really wanted us to understand the nature of materials and construction methods which good design came out of. He was often misunderstood as advocating historical “style”, but would never advocate the crap that is being built all over Berkeley today. [which is probably why he moved back to europe:)]

    I have issue with style in general and will always advocate for what is appropriate in aesthetics as well as in function. Libraries need natural light for reading spaces and less light in areas where books are kept. I would not say that the approved building is wonderful by any means [in fact i would do something completely different] – but it is at least 100 times better than the increadibly incompetent and insensitive work proposed by CLU. Todd Jersey has actually done a lot better so cant really understand this….[his dad was [is] a great film maker]..

  23. So, does anyone know what they did?

    My guess is that the ZAB said the project could go ahead, and the plaintiffs said the lawsuit would go ahead – but that is just a guess.

  24. “We have fake historical buildings popping up all over Berkeley which is a mystery to me for such a supposedly progressive and forward thinking community.”

    You are confusing political progressivism and modernist esthetics. In fact, modernism is an obsolete style, and I would expect forward-thinking people to question and criticize it.

    The questioning began here in Berkeley, as much as anywhere else. One of the most important critics of modernism is Berkeley Prof. Emeritus Christopher Alexander.

  25. It doesn’t actually present an example of economic inequality at all. If you real Thomas Lord’s response to your question, you can see that the firm that did the master plan simply decided to tackle the easiest jobs first.

    Those who claim the decision to work on some projects before others because of the economic status of those areas are just trying to muddy the waters and win fans for their viewpoint by hinting at some sort of class warfare.

  26. Nobody needs to advocate for the preservation of buildings like the Tool Lending Library.

    The service it provides is excellent, but the building itself is of absolutely zero historical or architectural value.

  27. So despite your pat conclusion that “the rich get richer” the real reason is because they started on the least complicated projects first.

    Sounds like some sensible action on the part of the planners. Surprising.

  28. Thanks for the links, Tom. I don’t trust Todd Jersey’s assessment of his own designs (possible bias?) but I’ll give these a look over this weekend.

    Unfortunately his downloadable plans for the West Berkeley library are mess. Looks like he stacked the different levels in his plans instead of giving each of them its own page, making it almost impossible to read.

  29. “It is hard to reconcile this line of argument with CLU’s demand that we keep the truly mediocre “mid century modern” South Branch library.”

    I agree with you about that. I don’t think the South Branch is worth preserving. You got the right name for the style: “mediocre midcentury modern.”

  30. That’s a great idea for moving forward, Thomas. But writing airtight legislation is harder than an armchair lawyer might think, and that doesn’t change the fact that these lawsuits and the people who are bringing them to bear are wasting City funds.

  31. The argument goes like this:

    Prior to measure FF, all of the branches needed some work. South and West were in the worst shape. I don’t know about West but I am struck by how often I’ve seen South packed to the gills. At South, there appears to be a large pent-up demand throttled by an inadequate facility.

    The architectural firm that did the master plan looked at North and saw an easy planning process. It saw a library that already had more books and more visitors and said, well, since that one is easy, and since it’s busy…. that’s the first priority. So, for starters, doesn’t that seem a bit backwards to you? That the most problematic two branches aren’t the high priority? Seems like scheduling dessert before dinner but I guess at least it gets the money flowing faster….

    And that gets into the second problem. I don’t know if you remember but it was only a few weeks back that all the bids on North came in over budget. Now apparently for the moment it’s back on budget but I don’t think any of us should bother to act surprised if North and Claremont wind up eating more of the FF funds than they were supposed to, and then gosh South and West plans have to be cut back or more money raised.

    Meanwhile, South and West aren’t taking longer because of the lawsuit — they are taking longer because (a) They are genuinely more complicated projects. (b) The planning process really screwed up (of which the lawsuit is a symptom, not a cause).

    I think of this as a misalignment of incentives. The architect’s had incentive to get a project win. The staff and elected pols had incentive get a project win. Actual service to existing and potential library patrons came in 3rd or 5th here.

    All along the line, since inception, the main incentives of the key actors seems to have been to get a project approved and spending money — not to make the most efficient and well prioritized improvements to the library system.

    I predict — and gee it doesn’t take much, I bet we’d all predict — that an improved and expanded South is going to boost library attendance hugely. It’s going to have that impact on a historically under-served community. It and West are, as the library’s architects said of North, “arguably the most important”. And yet all down the line they got the short end of the stick in the planning process leading to defect after defect, adding up the delays. And now people want to try to blame this on CLU who in addition to filing a meritorious suit have even chipped in to make better plans for West and South. It’s obscene, ugly Berkeley politics at its worst.

  32. I’m not fully informed here, but I don’t get this argument (that somehow the new buildings are a sign of economic inequity). From my standpoint: all regions of the city are getting new or upgraded libraries; the south and west branches are getting more money than north or claremont; and south and west are getting spaces that the library group views as the most functional. How does that represent ‘the rich get richer’?

  33. While I personally support the current plans and don’t agree with BAHA on this, I think you need to think of BAHA sort of like being a defense attorney… their role is the be an advocate for preserving heritage. Someone else needs to balance heritage vs. other concerns, e.g., function.

  34. It seems to me that the City can probably save some money by carefully examining and reforming the planning department to try to better avoid making these kinds of expensive mistakes in the future.

  35. TizzieDish, have you ever been to a Library Board meeting? It’s not as entrenched as Peace & Justice–and they are certainly not pushing any single ideology as so many members of the myriad of commissions in Berkeley are (again, P&J for example). What’s wrong with wanting to build seismically safe, ADA accessible, attractive and modern buildings that will have to last for the next century? Do you spend much time in South or West? Go spend a couple hours in South and report back to us exactly why you think that shack is worth preserving.

  36. No. In 2008 the Branch Libraries Facilities Master Plan called for construction on North Branch to occur first and for South to begin next when North’s construction was complete and re-occupancy was imminent. South was to be similarly followed by West and West by Claremont.

    By December of 2010, Claremont had been skipped to the head of the queue and the phasing plan changed — the book mobile was a new element. The lawsuit happened very late in this process, after Claremont had been skipped ahead.

    In general, the ostensible reason for taking a long time with South and West is that they are the more complicated projects. Even the 2008 master plan acknowledges that those two branches will be the more difficult to implement and will take longer. It doesn’t take much to get from there to skipping Claremont ahead.

    A great deal of what has complicated the West and South projects is the the oddly scattershot and mis-executed planning process. The decision to demolish and rebuild was made without integrating that decision particularly well into measure FF and while using a very unfortunate strategy to get changes to the zoning law for this purpose. Those two branches simply weren’t as well planned as the others.

    The master plan reflects this bias. It carefully notes that North and Claremont have larger collections, higher attendance rates and so forth. North’s usage statistics were the strongest (of the branches) and in the original plan for phasing it is carefully noted:

    North Branch arguably has the greatest need for patron services and staff
    workspace. If designed appropriately and with community participation, North’s
    schedule should be predictable. Construction on North will start first.

    That’s written in 2008, mind you — no lawsuit in sight. “The rich get richer,” in some sense.

  37. Please see the links on this page:

    http://www.toddjerseyarchitecture.com/artman2/publish/civic/Berkeley_Libraries.shtml

    The Todd Jersey plans result in larger libraries. It is the architect’s assertion (see the “Letter to Aaron Sage”) that the cost is the same.

    So, it is not “cost less and result in similar amounts of space / services”… it is:

    Cost the same, yield more space, and partially preserve existing structures and (arguably) some of the good parts of their architectural character.

  38. And while were cataloging the various groups in Berkeley who predictably function as obstructionists to real change and progress (read: regressive conservatives), let’s not forget our old pals at BAHA who were quoted on Berkeleyside last summer:

    The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association is opposing the city’s plan to tear down and rebuild the South Berkeley Branch and Tool Lending Library.

    BAHA sent a letter to the planning department on July 16 protesting the proposed demolition because the existing building on Russell Street, designed by architect John Hans Ostwald in 1961, is an “architecturally significant building and a very fine example of Mid-Century Modern architecture.”

  39. Agreed. I’m no fan of glass & concrete block buildings, but the proposed design is a darned sight better than that monstrosity at the corner of University & MLK.

    I don’t know what style it’s supposed to be, but it’s just a big old eyesore.

  40. Maybe I’m reading old proposals, but so far every comparison I’ve read says that the CLU proposals will cost more and expand less than the current proposals.

    Can you point me to some information showing CLU proposals that cost less and result in similar amounts of space/services as the BLT’s proposals? I’d be very interested in seeing them.

  41. Might that possibly maybe sort of be because there aren’t lawsuits trying to block the work they’re doing in those libraries?

  42. The Todd Jersey design is ridiculous, not just aesthetically but if anyone at CLU understood anything about materials and construction they would realize that to build a “good” replica 19th century building it would cost significanly more than what the city can afford. It will end up being an ugly stucco box with cheap details and will not stand the test of time. Design and construction and the needs of institutions have progressed over the last 150 years. We have fake historical buildings popping up all over Berkeley which is a mystery to me for such a supposedly progressive and forward thinking community. Its inappropriate to say the least to recreate the past so literally. The proposed design is very modest open and appropriatley scaled to the street – it may only need a few touches of warmth in materials to pull it off.

  43. Great point. A big part of their job as public servants is supposed to be trying to figure out what would be best for the public. In this case it seems like they’re actually trying to do that by using public funds to get the biggest bang for their buck possible.

    Rehabbing old buildings that cost more and do less than new ones would is exactly the kind of wasteful spending that gets complained about all the time.

  44. So whose funds do you want to cut to pay for these lawsuits? What City service do you think deserves less money in order to pay for lawsuits trying to block new libraries?

  45. A fair point about the pool measure. It’s a shame they didn’t seek something that would have maintained current services instead of asking for so much new stuff.

    Instead of all the wrangling and lawsuits, perhaps it really would be best for the City to just add a question on the next election ballot asking voters if they would approve of the already-approved funds being used for new construction in cases where new construction would cost less than renovation.

    I’m not trying to speak for “most voters”, I’m just trying to put myself in their shoes and try to figure out what the average voter would have been thinking when they voted for the library measure.

  46. I thought Karen Hemphill’s comment was very apt. I see no merit in the argument that the existing South Branch building should be preserved as a historical landmark or community treasure. It seems internally contradictory to argue that public officials improperly focus on the ends rather than the process and then turn around and argue that we should use any means necessary to hold them accountable. To me, the immediate question is, what is best outcome for the community served by the branches in question? If we think that moving forward with the existing proposals is best, then we should support them, regardless of what we think about the political process that led up to them. For the most part, the failures of elected officials are best addressed at the ballot box.

  47. Why build a 1900-looking building in 2011, especially if it’s over budget, provides inadequate space, and does not comply with current standards? There’s nothing to discuss here.
    NEXT!

  48. I’m not that worried about libraries blighting the neighborhood….dollar stores, maybe? but not libraries. a welcoming new building, built to the street edge unlike the current building, with good light, would be a civilized boon.

  49. Dsynder, I totally believe you are sincere. And thanks for these numbers. They make your position sound great and you manage to blame the CLU lawsuit people for the problems, which would not exist if the library foundation had been more transparent and done better planning when it wrote the funding proposal and sought RENOVATION funds. I don’t know you so this is not personal when I say that your comment supports a lack of transparency in public stewardship. That rankles and is wrong.

  50. Berkeleyside was speaking to Karen Hemphill and the library came up. She
    didn’t seek us out to hold forth on the library, and she certainly didn’t
    suggest that her position on the school board gave her particular authority
    on library issues. Naming her as a member of the school board was our
    decision.

    I think it would have been strange to quote her purely as someone who lives
    in the neighborhood and has thoughts about the library without mentioning
    that she’s also on the school board.

  51. if we take your approach, Sharkey, then why should any public official feel accountable to the public? they can use your excuse ‘move forward’ to justify ignoring whatever they wish. I’m sick of this kind of politicking. Isn’t everyone?

  52. and how about this: why didn’t they start with West and South? They should not have spent one cent on any library changes until it is clear that all needs will be met. but, gee, look, they are already working on the libraries in the rich part of town. Whoda thunk it? the rich get first in line.

  53. By jove, Bruce Love, I think you have nailed it. Some officials are setting the CLU lawsuit to take the fall when all the library money is poured into the rich part of towns’ libraries.

    If anyone took a serious look at the CLU proposals, they have come up with great designs that will cost much less than what the library board wants to do. The library board, like too many public servants in Berkeley, just wants to run it’s fiefdom, thank you very much, and they are using the CLU lawsuit to obsfucate and offload scrutiny.

  54. I disagree with you, Sharkey.

    You might be right when you suggest that ‘most voters’ (if you can speak for most voters, does that mean we all can?!!) would have voted for the measure if it had been worded differently. We don’t know. But we do know what the measure actually said and it did actually say ‘renovation’. If we are going to ignore the rule of law, then who will decide which rules and laws will be followed and which not? Why put anything to voters if public servants can then go ahead and do whatever they want?

    This library renovation proposal affected how I voted on the swimming pool measure. I voted against the pools and I am an avid, lifelong lapswimmer and I am appalled by the decrepit state of Berkeley pools and sickened that the Willard pool is no longer available to Berkeley children for swim lessons. But I thought the proposal was very badly worded and I did not trust Berkeley public employees to manage the money the way they said it would. And why was I so skeptical? Because of the way the library money has played out.

    I want public money proposals to be carefully worded and I want public servants to carefully hew to the wording once they have the money. The library board has been disingenuous and dismissive of the public. That matters to me. A lot.

  55. The allocations you describe are per plan — they are not hard limits. It is nice to hear to that still quite early in the process, Claremnot and North are allegedly on budget. It would be nicer if they were under-budget. I will be, I promise, genuinely impressed if they remain on budget through completion and I don’t expect to be impressed that way.

    This bit is interesting (to me, at least), where you say:

    At a point last Summer I heard that the South project could be ready to go even while North and Claremont are closed but the lawsuit filed last August put a stop on the design process until issues were resolved.

    We’ve all heard lots of things. Can you give a more convincing cite, please, than just something you heard at some point last summer? I am genuinely open-minded here. Specifically what executive process was delayed and where is the evidence? There’s a kind of (I hope this isn’t a politically incorrect thing to say but…) — in the cinemagraphic sense — a kind of a “Mexican Standoff” of finger pointing here. The City rolled over and showed belly on some of the lawsuit issues and the narrative that says the suit is screwing the people is pretty weak in that context. Help me out better than “At a point last Summer I heard….” please.

    It really is a concern that the lawsuit will delay and increase the overall cost to South and West.

    Something easily lost in this discussion is the critical question: Does the lawsuit have legal merit? The city has already made concessions that see, tp amount to “yes, it sure does.”

    The point here is that it isn’t the lawsuit that is the problem — it is the faulty planning process and ballot measure that are the problem.

    During the public meetings with the architects the two new buildings provided more space and better facilities, given the allocations from the bond funds, than the alternatives.

    Do I correctly understand you to say that the architects whose plans are on the table here were heard to say publicly that their plans are better? I am sure I would not expect otherwise.

    I’m a regular user of South branch and the tool library is one of the most helpful city services I’ve ever found anywhere. I want to see progress and improvements as much anyone. I also think CLU has some solid points and that their suit might lead to some better outcomes. That’s where I’m coming from.

  56. Also, the folks suing the library board are using language about preservation because that’s the legal avenue they see to stop the library board from how they have behaved. The library board got money under shifting pretenses but the law suit focuses on the preservation stuff cause legal games are legal games. It’s a little sad. I support the lawsuit against the library board because transparent government matters and our local library board seems to feel very entrenched, very entitled, very elitist and I think they should be held accountable and use any legal argument available to stop them. I don’t think that old dump of a south branch library should stand. Get the money openly.

  57. Remember that old saw about ‘does the end justify the means?”

    I think it matters, a great deal, how we go about doing things for the commons. If voters vote for rehabbed libraries, it matters to take their money and do something else. The end does not justify the means.

    I’m all for the new, bigger libraries: put it on a ballot and I’ll vote for it. But shove new libraries down the public throat, and I’d sue too.

  58. The quote of Ms. Karen Hemphill suggests to me that she confuses her job title with some kind of credential giving her words authority when she is, when she speaks here, just another ordinary Berkeley resident. Just because she scored a gig on the Berkeley school board does not give her personal opinion more authority than another resident’s opinion. She speaks as if she is stating established, incontrovertible fact. She says ‘just because the buildilng is old does not make it a treasure’ and she makes it sound like that comment communicates the grounds for the law suit but I guess she does not understand what she is talking about.

    The lawsuit does not insist that the old library is a treasure: the lawsuit is about using voting proposals to get funding to restore existing libraries and then taking that money and using it in a different way matters. Transparent government and transparent use of public money matters. Berkeley voters agreed to fund rehab then the library board changed their plans, ignoring what amounts to a mandate from the public to do rehab.

    I’m all for demotion and new libraries: give up the money taken from the voters under false pretenses and put a new proposal before the voters. I imagine Berkeley residents will support new libraries. Just be transparent and have integrity.

    When I read Ms. Hemphill’s comment, I am concerned that a member of my local school board speaks with a somewhat forked tongue: she dissembles, misrepresenting the position of folks who have courageously sued the library board to enforce transparent government. I don’t want dissemblers on my school board. Do you?

  59. We can’t go back in time and change the writing of FF. All we can do is try to move forward.

    These pointless lawsuits do little more than waste taxpayer money, and impede progress.

  60. The $26 million bond funding is allocated to the Branch project under these categories and amounts:
    North Branch – $5,657,470
    South Branch / Tool Lending – $6,329,520
    West Branch – $7,139,455
    Claremont Branch – $4,394,240
    General Program Soft Costs -$1,986,952
    Program Contingency – $492,363

    As you can see the projects for South and West are taking up a larger portion of the bond funds.

    The Claremont and North projects are moving ahead and on budget. They are first to go because when the Library began the process they understood it would take longer to work through the Zoning, EIR and Demolishing/New Construction issues that would be required.

    At a point last Summer I heard that the South project could be ready to go even while North and Claremont are closed but the lawsuit filed last August put a stop on the design process until issues were resolved. It really is a concern that the lawsuit will delay and increase the overall cost to South and West. During the public meetings with the architects the two new buildings provided more space and better facilities, given the allocations from the bond funds, than the alternatives.

    As the ED for the Library Foundation I am not impartial but as a seperate non-profit in the community we have been a part of this process since the original concepts back in 2004 when a new West Branch was proposed.
    David, BPLF

  61. And part of the point of the suit is isn’t a damn shame what sloppy work our officials did around the whole FF fiasco? If they had greater competence and floated an honest ballot initiative — none of this would have been necessary. Vote the bums out of office, I say. (If only we had decent alternative candidates….)

  62. No matter where the funding comes from, it’s still money that is being diverted from other, more useful purposes. The City does not posses limitless funds.

  63. I for one love the design of the new West Branch. It seems to use glass fairly minimally compared to BCC, and it has a front entrance.

    The CLU alternative retains the side entrance, which is among the worst features of the current building (but so many to choose from!). Frankly I find the architecture of their alternative simply faux-old rather than historicist.

    Im not looking forward to this branch being closed, however. Its literally right across the street from my apartment, so im not looking forward to having to go up to the Central library.

  64. The funds to defend the lawsuit are — my best understanding — not measure FF funds. If they are .. now the City has two legal problems.

  65. I have to agree with Eric on this one.

    I doubt most voters were focusing on the word “renovation” as being more important than the idea of getting new libraries.

    If this continues to drag on, perhaps the city could add question on the next election ballot asking whether Berkeley residents would rather use the funds to do expensive, less-adequate renovations to the existing buildings, or to do cheaper new construction.

  66. It is hard to reconcile this line of argument with CLU’s demand that we keep the truly mediocre “mid century modern” South Branch library.

    Neither the West Branch or the South Branch libraries are adequate for current and future needs. The West Branch has major structural needs. Colloquially it needs a lot of “termite work.” The planning process for the West Branch has been going on many years, long before Measure FF was proposed. I believe it was started when BPL submitted a bid to get a part of state bond funds dedicated to library buildings. The state did not award Berkeley the money. During the planning process for that bid, the architects determined that it would be more practical to build anew instead of moving the library (forward) and doing all the structural repair work and building additions. (CLU alternative design shows the library actually moved forward from its current location off the street.)

  67. I re-instated Eric’s comment after it mysteriously disappeared. I think it’s a Disqus setting that we need to figure out — probably involving multiple links, as you suggest Eric. We will look into it.

  68. You know, the proposed library design looks a LOT like what they’ve done with that Teen Center at the corner of Civic Center Park across from Berkeley High.

  69. I’m not sure what happened. I was able to read and reply to the comment earlier today, but when I came back to the thread to see some other responses Eric’s post had been replaced with the text “This comment has been flagged for moderation.” or something like that.

    If multiple people (or one person using multiple IPs) flag a comment, does it get temporarily hidden?

  70. The comment disappeared briefly and said something along the lines of “This comment has been flagged for review/moderation.” But the comment is back now. Perhaps it was Disqus’s way of saying, “I think thou doth protest too much?”

  71. Why do you hold the opinion that the CLU lawsuit(s) won’t jeopardize the West & South projects, Thomas? Do you have some information suggesting that funds to counter lawsuits are limitless, or that shows that countering the CLU lawsuit doesn’t cost anything?

  72. Do you still have some filter on that requires manual approval for posts with multiple links? Whatever the cause, his post that starts “Once again, I think that throwing ….” was fully present in the RSS feed but was initially displaying as something like “delayed / flagged for moderation” or words to that effect.

  73. I’m not sure which comment of Eric’s is at issue. I don’t think we’ve moderated or flagged anything of his today. Did I miss something?

  74. The renovation canard is just another tactic to block designs which some people find distasteful. Berkeley voters want better libraries, they want them on schedule and at or below cost. The current structures arguably do not have significant architectural merit; replacing them would yield larger, better spaces and be less costly. In the minds of most Berkeleyans, this is a no-brainer.

  75. The narrative that some officials are using is that the CLU lawsuit risks killing the West and South projects. I don’t believe that. I suspect that the West and South projects were in serious trouble from the start because of how the effort was designed. FF authorizes raising certain funds. The other branch renovations are at the head of the line. If those projects go over budget and/or construction costs inflate while West and South wait for their turn, there won’t be enough FF money for West and South as currently envisioned. This is a structural failure of the design of FF built in from the start that put West and South on the chopping block without any help at all from CLU.

    I’m especially appalled when various officials encourage spread of a narrative that suggests the CLU folks are trying to harm the people of south and west Berkeley — and at the same time the elected officials have allegedly worked so hard for so long to make this happen. If the officials spreading that narrative were really so dedicated to the West and South branches, why did they not manage to get the language of measure FF correct and why did they agree to have West and South at the back of the line? It’s awfully convenient looking that any subsequent failure can now be (wrongly) blamed on CLU. I’m not sure community anger is properly aimed at CLU, though — I’d look at some of the folks we elected.

  76. Sharkey, I myself become very impatient with NIMBYs who are just against everything, and I have often criticized them in the press, but in this case, the group is not just against progress. They have come up with positive proposal, and in my opinion, it is much better than the original proposal.

    As I understand the suit, it is based on the fact that the voters passed the measure FF Bond with very clear wording saying that the money would be used for “renovating” the libraries. The bond measure said nothing about demolishing libraries and building new ones.

    I think we all know how the winds blow in Berkeley politics well enough to realize that the bond would have had much less chance of passing if it had said that the funds could be used for demolishing existing library buildings.

    However many people are in CLU, I think that they are speaking for the intent of the voters who passed this bond issue.

  77. I agree: Berkeley City College is nice on the inside and ugly on the outside.

    The general principle involved is that large areas on one material make a building look cold and sterile. That includes the large glass area and large blank wall on the outside of City College, and the large glass area that covers most of the facade of this building.

    A large expanse of glass is a cliche of modernism. It looked daring in 1950, when Mies van der Rohe and Philp Johnson did it. Now it has been so overdone that, in the case of this west Berkeley library, it looks like a drugstore at a suburban shopping center.

    New Urbanists often use architectural guidelines that prohibit this sort of sterile expanse of glass, requiring solid wall punctuated by windows, like traditional buildings.

    Incidentally, in the case of City College, I heard from someone who works there that someone on their staff insisted on changing the architects original design for the facade to come up with the “dramatic statement” that we have now. That is why the facade is so much worse than the inside of the building.

  78. Thanks, Sharkey. If I had to guess, it’s because I used bit.ly links–hopefully the moderators will see that the content is benign and restore the comment.

  79. Why on earth was Eric’s post flagged for reviews/removal?

    It was not offensive and should not be edited.

  80. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the “Concerned Library Users” group is actually only one or two people.

    How big is this group and how are they able to stymie progress like this?

  81. “Ugly” is a descriptive term that even Architects use to describe some buildings.

    It’s funny that you would use Berkeley City College as an example of a “good” metal & glass box, since most opponents of the West Berkeley branch design would probably use it as an example of a *bad* metal & glass box. It’s not bad once you get inside, but it’s pretty awful to look at from the street level.

    I’m not a big fan of the proposed West Berkeley Library, but I don’t see it as offensive in any way. I completely agree with your general sentiment that West Berkeley needs a larger library, and the proposed alternatives all fall short of the proposed design in one way or another.

  82. Thanks Eric for your thoughtful comment. A larger more light-filled space would be great for the West Berkeley branch. The new modern design would be a great addition to Berkeley.

  83. Once again, I think that throwing around words like ugly is insulting and counter productive. I’ve said before that I like historicist charm, but I don’t think every building has to be a throwback. I don’t see what’s so offensive about the original proposal; this design would be a vast improvement on the current appearance of the library. Moreover, there are plenty of so-called “glass boxes” out there which have improved rather than blighted their respective neighborhoods:

    Berkeley City College
    San Francisco LGBT community center
    185 Post Street, San Francisco

    The original proposal interfaces just as well, if not better with the street that the alternatives. It also features a greater degree of transparency and larger, more accessible public space. This all seems to come down to a matter of taste, but these arguments about aesthetics are moot. The historicist alternatives are not feasible and provide less space. This neighborhood deserves a bigger, better library that comes in on schedule and on budget. I think it’s deplorable that these obstructionist groups would jeopardize the future of our libraries because they have a vendetta against the chosen architectural style.

    This might as well be Berkeleyside’s standard headline for these stories:
    Vocal minority: Throw divided baby out with bathwater!

  84. I love the proposed West Berkeley library design. Boxes can be beautiful and, in my subjective opinion, this one IS attractive not to mention comes in within budget and maximizes floor space. Population growth in West Berkeley is going to be significant over the next 20 years and we need a library that is large enough to serve the neighborhood.

  85. In my opinion, the proposed new West Berkeley branch is an ugly glass box that would blight the neighborhood.
    The CLU alternative is an attractive building that would do far, far more to improve the neighborhood.

    The libraries would not foist this sort of ugly building on other neighborhoods of Berkeley. Imagine the reaction if they tried to demolish the North Berkeley branch and replace it with an ugly box.