'Master plan' meet reflects divisions over library

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Atherton residents who requested a special city council meeting about creating a master plan for all town facilities got the discussion they had asked for on Nov. 8, but no resolution, because the council did not vote on the issue.

No action was taken because the meeting had been advertised as a "discussion" of a citizen proposal for a master plan, so council members said they could not vote on the issue.

The meeting was scheduled at the request of at least 300 Atherton residents who signed a petition requesting a master plan to include sizing and location of all town facilities -- including administration, finance, building, public works, police and library -- before making any decisions to move the library to Holbrook-Palmer Park.

The decision about a site for a new library has already been made, however. The council voted 3-2 at its Oct. 19 meeting to make town-owned Holbrook-Palmer Park the "preferred site" for a new library.

In addition to planning a new library, the town has been studying building a new police station and administrative offices. A separate committee has been working on each project. The library project has funding in a special account that can only be spent on the library, but the town offices would need private funding.

Council members James Dobbie, Bill Widmer and Kathy McKeithen, who was on the task force which recommend the park site for the library, voted for the park site. Council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson voted against it.

The issue has divided the town, and no one seems happy about it. "I think it's horrible to divide a community this way," resident Janet Larson said.

"There's all this bickering going back and forth over this library." However, she said, many feel they were not allowed to voice their opinions before the decision on the park site was made. "We have not been included in this process and I think that makes everybody angry," Ms. Larson said.

Others, however, urged the council to move on with designing the new library without more delay. "This issue has been studied and an evaluation and a recommendation made and approved," said Walter Sleeth. "What can possibly be gained by unraveling this process now?" he asked. "We certainly run the risk of community fatigue over this issue."

About 50 residents attended the meeting, which ran from 6 to 8 p.m. on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Several speakers, including council member McKeithen, brought up the fact that the website for the town's Environmental Programs Committee has a page pointing out a number of problems with putting the new library in the park. But the committee has not met since well before the council voted on the issue and the library site has not been on the agenda of a recent meeting of the committee.

"What right does a town committee have to make statements like this on their website?" Ms. McKeithen said.

Others at the meeting questioned a survey done by local residents after the town did not follow through on a recommendation by its Park and Recreation Commission to conduct a survey to determine if residents want the library in the park.

"I looked at this survey that was purported to let us know what Atherton residents thought," said Mayor Jim Dobbie. The questions were biased, he said, and the survey did not go to all Atherton residents. "That's not the way that we should conduct a survey," he said.

Council member Jerry Carlson said that perhaps the council should reconsider doing its own survey. "Right now we don't know what the will of the majority of our residents is," Mr. Carlson said. "We're making some of the largest and lasting decisions that the council will ever make," he said. "I think doing a poll shows respect for the residents."

But council member Dobbie disagreed. "We're elected here by the residents of this town so we don't need a referendum on everything that comes up," he said.

Council members said the cost of a master plan might rule it out. Interim City Manager John Danielson said it would probably take six- to eight-months and cost between $100,000 and $150,000.

But others said the decisions about the library and the new town center are so important that it would be worthwhile. "I haven't heard anyone say they don't want a library," said former council member Didi Fisher. "I'm challenging all of you to do the right thing. The right thing at this point is the master plan."

Council member Elizabeth Lewis agreed. "If the library in the park is the perfect solution what is the harm of going through a master plan?" she said. "It's not about the library, it's about the process."

Council member McKeithen let her frustration show near the end of the meeting. "This whole process I find incredibly distasteful," she said. Citing threats to recall council members, she said: "If you want to recall me, just do it quick."


Posted by Survey, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm

In the past the council has supported doing town surveys on uses for the park. Why the change in attitude?

The Needs Survey done by the County Library has been used to claim that a bigger library is needed. Did less than seventy Atherton residents participate?

Shouldn't Atherton do a larger survey since the park will be forever changed?

Park and Rec's has advised the council to do a survey. That should at least be an council agenda item.

The recent survey was done for free within two weeks. If the ratios of this survey hold, only 20-25% of the town want a regional library in the park.

Why not do an authorized survey before spending $80,000 on an EIR? If a survey showed that the library in the park had hundreds of Atherton supporters, many would feel the spending $80,000 for an EIR was not needed. Just build it.

But if only 25% of the survey support a bigger library and only 25% want it in the park, then maybe it should not happen. I do not think the next survey should have the option "No Opinion".

Inform the residents of pros and cons of the county library in park and accept our vote.

From the last two surveys less than eighty Atherton residents have expressed support for an Atherton-San Mateo County Library in the Park in the l. Maybe there is more support- maybe not. Before the Council moves ahead with a library it should do the survey that Park and Rec has requested.

The Master Plan and potential EIR could be resolved in a very simple manner. Do an electronic survey with a validated email list. The recent survey was done for free within two weeks. Two council members challenged the email list, likewise two council members challenged the Library Needs survey done by the county.

Have staff validate a town email list and work out questions both sides agree to. I am not sure why some council members objected to the wording of the recent questions. They seem to get to the point.
1. Do you want a library in the Park?
2. What size library do you want in the Park?
3. Maybe add a question: "How often do you use the library?"

Here are some results from the recent survey. Responses 155. The Summary is that 70-75% want the town to vote on the issue and 20-30% agree with statements that Atherton wants a bigger library in the park. On several questions 15-25% had no opinion. 70% of the survey opposed the vote of the council to move the library and double its size. To make it easier to read I am combining Strongly Disagree with Disagree and just calling it "Disagree". Also combining Strongly Agree with Agree and calling it "Agree".


I believe the library should remain within the Town Center area
Disagree 20% (31) No Opinion 25% (39) Agree 55% (85)

I like the Atherton Library small and quaint the way it is
Disagree 28.5% (45) No Opinion 20% (31) Agree 50% (77)

I think the library needs to be substantially larger
Disagree 58% (88) No Opinion 18% (28) Agree 25% (37)

I like Holbrook-Palmer Park the way it is
Disagree 23% (36) No Opinion 19% (30) Agree 57% (87)

Replacing the Main House with a library is not the right thing for the park
Disagree 21% (32) No Opinion 18% (27) Agree 61% (94

Do you believe that a public library qualifies as a 'recreation' use for a park? Yes 29% (44) No Opinion 16% (25) no 55% (84)

The decision to move the library should be made by a vote of town
residents Disagree 25% (38) No Opinion 5% (7) Agree 71% (110)

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 10, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is an alternative and very accurate way of determining the will of the citizens - a ballot measure.

In general law cities proponents must obtain signatures from 10 percent of registered voters for a measure to appear on the ballot in the next regularly scheduled election.
The threshold is 15 percent to call a special election within 88 to 103 days.

Posted by Recall?, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 10, 2011 at 9:39 pm

If we're looking to measure "the will of the citizens," let's talk about the recall that Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis have threatened against Kathy McKeithen, Jim Dobbie and Bill Widmer.

What Elizabeth Wood did not report is that although Elizabeth Lewis denied at this meeting that she and Jerry Carlson discussed spearheading a recall campaign against these three council members at the last council meeting, Bill Widmer stated, aloud, that he overheard her telling this to her crony, Jerry Carlson.

The problem with this strategy is that Kathy McKeithen has received more votes from the citizens than any other council member over the past ten years. In fact, I think she's received more than everyone else put together.

Next, Bill Widmer received far more votes than Jerry Carlson in the last election.

The will of the voters is for Kathy McKeithen and Bill Widmer to be running this town, not Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis.

Now, how can someone vote for Elizabeth Lewis for vice mayor next month when she's threatened to recall them? Tell me that.

Posted by Library Rat, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2011 at 6:02 am

Looks like this isn't over. The next Council meeting on November 16 has been moved to Holbrook Palmer Park. No, not the new Community Center / Library, but the Pavilion. Guess they're expecting a crowd.

Among the items to be discussed is the Council's consideration of the Park and Recreation Committee's recommendation. Apparently the Council's own rules require them to consider any Committee recommendation.

The Park and Recreation Committee asked the Council to take a survey of the residents. They ignored that recommendation and voted 3-2 to place the Community Center / Library in the Park anyway.

Arrive early to get a good seat!

Posted by Ballot, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2011 at 9:01 am


How many is 10% ?

How about a 2 items on the ballot add Term Limits?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 9:16 am

10% would be about 400 - the same number that signed the Special Meeting petition.

Petitions for ballot measures and ballot measures may only contain one item.

Posted by Heard at the meeting, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Nov 11, 2011 at 11:45 am

After the meeting Elizabeth and afew residents were again talking recall. Several residents overheard it.

Also why is it that the article which states McKeithen is on the library committee, fails to mention that Lewis and Carlson are on the New Town Center task force that does not want to lose the library and its money. One might see this as a case of sour grapes.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Why can't we deal with the issue of what and where the community wants with a new library and just eliminate all discussions about the personalities involved?

Posted by Because, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Because when elected officials have conflicts of interest, that contaminated the processs.

Jerry Carlson has the biggest conflict. In addition to being on the Town Center Task Force, he's on the board of the Selby Lane school. He's publicly stated he wants the library money to go to improve this school's library.

The public at large does not have access to it.

Add to this his work on the High Speed Rail committee when he just lives a block away from the tracks and his home is uncommonly impacted.

And he's trying to recall others??

Give me a break.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

If we put a well articulated ballot measure before the voters then the issue can be decided without getting into personalities.

Posted by atherton voter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Peter, your suggestion of a ballot measure is excellent. At this point after seeing the special meeting the issue is so polarizing within the Town Council that no good will come of any decision they make. Rightfully this decision of where to put the library whether a new larger one in the park or a remodel in its existing location is one for the residents to make by vote.
The Town Council needs to pay attention to the routine matters that are their responsibility and sworn duty. By trying to co-opt the process of town committees,citizen input and above respect for their constituents they do not serve well the office of councilmen.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

OK - Let's draft some language here.

This is my first draft and I have zero pride of authorship:

The new Atherton Library should be built in Holbrook Palmer Park.

or alternatively:

The new Town Library should be built in the near vicinity of the current Library.

Whichever is chosen would then be accompanied by arguments both for and against in the Voter Information Booklet.

Posted by atherton voter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Peter that is a good start and I am in favor of applying the KISS principal. However in order to build a library in the Park you pretty much need to tear down the Main House and Pavilion if you do what the majority of the council has decided to do (11,000 sq ft). So that part probably needs additional language.
The second question probably need to be more narrow to avoid a conflict with a new town center complex. I think you would need to place it in its existing location and be remodeled and enlarged and clarify the restriction to use only library funds to accomplish either project.
Anyone else have any thoughts?

Posted by Survey, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm

"Other thoughts" from the last line of the survey:

The decision to move the library should be made by a vote of town
residents Disagree 25% (38) No Opinion 5% (7) Agree 71% (110).

On a ballot each side can write their statement why and also write a rebuttal to the other side's statement.

This is not about using any of the library funds for the Town Center, the Town Center was being discussed long before the library had any reserves. Hopefully that distraction can be dropped.

The issue is either a new library in the park or expand at the same place or don't expand and just do the seismic improvements.

Whatever happens, we all support the vote and move on.

Carlson's idea to make a donation to Selby Lane has merit. It makes sense that some kids that don't have books in the Selby Lane Library need to fine a way to get to the Atherton library, the kids could use the books during free time and after school.

Why not puts some books in their library? Sounds like the BookMobile concept. Some books could be on sharing. Sad that Atherton has $5M in its library fund, can spend $80,000 on an EIR to put a library in the park before asking the residents if they even want a library in the park and still can not provide some funds to help the Selby Lane library.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 5:45 pm

I have sent the Council the following:

Dear Council,
I note the discussions regarding the location of a new library. This issue is and will become even more divisive and more personal if it continues to be dealt with by the Council. Therefore, I recommend that the Council place this issue in its simplest form before the electorate for their decision.

I appreciate that what I propose could also be done by a petition from 10% of Atherton's registered voters, however I believe that it would be much less divisive and more elegant if the Council took the leadership on placing this matter before the voters.

Posted by Question , a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm


If a question came before the Menlo Park fire district to open or close a fire station, don't you think that decision should be made by the fire board, which has the resources and devotes considerable time to make an informed decision, rather than by a popular vote of district residents?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Deciding to close 1 of 7 fire stations is a dramatically different decision than deciding where to put Atherton's only library and if it should be in Atherton's only park.

In addition, I think the Fire District has a near perfect record of seeking and listening to public input in properly agendized public meetings.

Posted by Question 2, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

The state puts before the voters items such as High Speed Rail. The Assembly does not make the call. The residents of our state support ballot measures instead of having a small body of elected officals make the call.

Santa Clara City votes for a ballpark, the City Council does not decide the issue.

Thanks Peter. Good call.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 20, 2011 at 10:10 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Question asked what would the Fire Board do in similar circumstances.

On Oct 28 the Fire Board consider a Resolution making fundamental changes in personnel policies - change necessitated by the firefighters' union continued, for over two years, to negotiate. The Board vote 3-2 to adopt this Resolution.

In my nine years on the Fire Board there had never been less than a unanimous vote on any major issue. Therefore, the Board voted on Nov. 15 to reconsider the motion and in the following discussion gave great weight to the concerns of the two Directors who had voted against the motion and the language of the Resolution was changed to address their concerns. The revised Resolution passed 5-0.

The Council's continued division, the latest vote being 2-2 with 1 abstention, indicates an apparently unresolvable conflict. Rather than proceed on such an important issue with divided support amongst the Town Council it would seem much more appropriate to let the voters decide this issue. The Town government is a representative democracy and if the elected representatives cannot, after considerable effort, agree on this important issue then they should refer it to a committee of the whole - the voters.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Corrected sentence:

On Oct 28 the Fire Board consider a Resolution making fundamental changes in personnel policies - change necessitated by the firefighters' union continued, for over two years, refusal to negotiate.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 20, 2011 at 1:43 pm

It's interesting to me that a town who's residents have shown themselves to be extremely apathetic are now displaying a great deal of interest in this issue and they are being ignored by the council. Guess what folks? If you weren't so apathetic about the things happening in your town you probably wouldn't be getting treated this way by the people you elected. You get the government you deserve.

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