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Editorial: Atherton about to be roiled by library spat

Original post made on Dec 28, 2011

We hope Atherton residents think twice before they sign a petition calling for a costly referendum on whether to build a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, a proposition sure to split the community and start the new year off on a contentious note.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 28, 2011, 12:00 AM

Comments (16)

Posted by Community Wish, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Credit to Ms. Fisher for getting involved to save open space in the park and opening herself to the attacks that go with leadership and doing a good deed.

Many of us do not see the need to move a library that works into the park and lose the open space.

Yes the library has an $8,000,000 reserve that has to be spent on library needs. It does not mean a new building has to be built. No one wants to use any of that money for a town center. That point should be dropped.

There is substantial opposition to moving the library to the park and substantial demand for having a vote on the issue. Council should have accepted those recommendations months ago.

Weeks ago a letter was sent to the residents of the town by the Friends of the Library promoting the merits of a Library in the Park. Numerous council meetings and public outreach meetings have allowed for the committee to explain the benefits.

However, it appears 70% of the residents would still prefer open space. During the next few months those infavor of the Library in the Park can continue to promote the benefits of moving the Library to the Park, but it seems unlikely the majority of residents want to give up what little open space Atherton has.

Instead rather than have a survey or a vote, numerous other reasons are given to discredit and silence those that ask for a survey or oppose moving the library to the park.

The faster the survey or vote happens the faster this issue is decided one way or the other.

The Library steering committee started with eight committee members, three which opposed the Library in the Park. Those three are no longer part of the committee. Reasons for their departure should be stated.

The majority of those attending council meetings have expressed opposition to the Library in the Park. The Park and Recreation Commission has recommended a survey of the town. A petition of more than 300 signatures was presented to council asking for a survey. All requests have been turned down. These actions have motivated Atherton residents to come forward on their own to protect open space.

When council refused to accept the requests to survey, an electronic survey was created and sent to fifteen hundred emails: one hundred and seventy responded with less then 30% supporting the Library in the Park and 70% wanting a town survey. No reason to discredit that data.

Instead of deciding to do a town sponsered survey, those that want the Library in the Park claim the electronic survey was manipulated and plan to go door to door explain the benefits. It appears those that want the library in the park do not want to allow a survey for fear it will show the majority does not support their point of view.

When Ms. Fisher's group obtains the 728 signatures, it's the council's choice to spend money on an election or not. The council could just accept the will of the people and be done with matter. The cost of the possible cost of election should not be seen as a reason not to sign the petition. At the same time those council members not supporting the survey have voted not to have $85,000 a year in rental revenue from park facilities.

Moving the Library to the Park has no impact on the location for the town center. If a new Town Center is built, it will be near the existing Town Center.

This is a simple decision for Atherton residents: "Do you want a County Library in Atherton's Park or do you want Open Space?"


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Over the last two years, committee members attended more than 100 public meetings,"

Fewer than 25 of those meetings were actually public meetings with properly noticed agendas and held in locations open to the public. It seems that a lot of otherwise good work was done behind closed doors - one of the inevitable consequences of such behavior is a lack of public support.

A vote as part of the June election would be less costly than a well done survey and a survey would lack the legitimacy of a ballot measure.

When our elected officials are deadlocked on a critical policy issue involving the Town's only park and only library it is totally appropriate to poll the citizens.


Posted by Thank you, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 29, 2011 at 7:55 am

A big Thank you to the Almanac for seeing through the machinations of Didi Fisher, Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis. The money for the library must stay with and for the library, not a town center, police station, etc. The residents of this community are indeed fortunate that over a multi-year process, the public and their elected representatives came up with an outstanding plan to build a fabulous library in the park. I continue to disagree with Peter Carpenter. There is no precedent for taking 3-2 votes to the citizens because of "deadlock." That's simply grandstanding.


Posted by roiling, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 29, 2011 at 8:18 am

The editor uses the word "roiled" to imply there is something negative about citizens using the referendum process to express their desires. It does not need a "precedent" in California as a threshold to qualify for a ballot measure...just a number of signatures as determined by number of voters in the last sate election. It is democracy in action and it is sad when the editor denigrates the process.
It seems that the use of library funds use,in spite of clear statements to the contrary, are going to be used to build a new town center. Nothing could be further from the truth as they cannot be used except for library purposes. That should not be difficult to understand, "Thank you"


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 29, 2011 at 8:56 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"v. roiled, roil·ing, roils
v.tr.
1. To make (a liquid) muddy or cloudy by stirring up sediment.
2. To displease or disturb; "

I think that the Editors have, perhaps inadvertently, properly described the situation. The citizens are in fact displeased - but not by the proposed ballot measure but by the suggestion that the use of public funds, the site of the Town's only library and the permanent reallocation of part of the Town's only park are not matters for the citizens to decide (given a deadlock by their elected representatives on this critical issue).


Posted by Thank you, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:11 am

>>> It seems that the use of library funds use,in spite of clear statements to the contrary, are going to be used to build a new town center. Nothing could be further from the truth as they cannot be used except for library purposes. That should not be difficult to understand, "Thank you"

Just a red herring. Marsala cooked up a Ponzi scheme a few years ago to have the library buy a decrepit building from the Town, which would then turn around and build a glorious new police station with that money. There are some very sneaky and horrible schemes that have been cooked up to pilfer the library money while still making it seem like it's still for the library. That just won't work, and won't be allowed.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Who is going to pay for the non-library spaces in the proposed new building if library funds cannot be used for this purpose?


Posted by rolling, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 29, 2011 at 11:31 am

Peter asks,
"Who is going to pay for the non-library spaces in the proposed new building if library funds cannot be used for this purpose?"

In stead of referring to the other spaces as "non-library" why not just be honest about the whole project and call it a community center with space allocated to library functions.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"In stead of referring to the other spaces as "non-library" why not just be honest about the whole project and call it a community center with space allocated to library functions."

If that is the case then the cost of the non-library spaces will have to be paid for from some other source than the Library Fund.


Posted by Compromise, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Using the library funds for the new town center are off the table. The current topic simply is: "Do you want a County Library in the Park?"

Regarding the town center: Ever since the modulars went in for the building and public works departments around 1995, funding options using donations have been considered. This started long before there was ever a Library reserve.

Marsala presented several ideas including a bond measure to pay for the new town center, that would cost approximately $35.00 per household per year for thirty years. Bond measures have paid for the last two Town Centers.

He did advocate the council remove from the General Fund the $1.8M the Building Deptartment has set asside for the new building.

It was four years ago when Marsala sought ideas to move both projects forward without using Park land. He favored offering the current council chambers and the land to the Library or Arts Committee. Either group would compensate the town the fair market value of the land, only if the council majority supported the idea and either group wanted the land and building. Neither the council nor either group wanted supported the idea or wanted the land so no action was taken on his idea.

As opposed to Atherton getting "roiled", both sides should work together. A compromise solution is to move council chambers into the new town center across the street and for the town to turn the existing council chambers and land over to the Library or Arts Committee for free. That gives the library the extra space it wants and keeps the open space in the park.

The Town Center group helps the Library group raise funds to convert the council chambers to fund the library expansion and the Library Steering Committee helps the Town Center Group raise funds or pass a bond measure to build a new town center with a council chambers. All groups get what the want: The library gets more land for expansion, the open space in the park is preserved, and a new town center is built.



Posted by Thank you, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 30, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I do not feel that Atherton needs a new library. We have a charming, lovely facility and have easy access to the use of Menlo Park and Redwood City libraries, both of which are very adequate.

Holbrook Palmer Park should remain just that - a park. It does not need the additional traffic, both people and automobiles, that a library would create.


Posted by Agreed, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 30, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Thank you,

I agree with you.


Posted by Point:Counterpoint, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm

The Almanac's Editor makes his case for putting the brakes on the democratic process. Apparently, the mere possibility of roiling justifies killing an effort to poll Atherton's residents.

Lost on the Editor is the fourth estate's role as the watchdog of society. The Almanac should promote government transparency, accountability, and public scrutiny of decision makers by highlighting policy failures and maladministration by public officials. Instead, the Editor recommends side stepping controversy in favor of community cohesion.

Like it or not, we have an adversarial governance system. Things might get uncomfortable and it might even cost some money. The end result, however, is due process. Nobody ever said Democracy is pretty.

Here's the Op-Ed:

Good governance requires public involvement. Atherton's Council has overlooked this fundamental lesson. Rather than surveying its residents about the new library, it has dismissed calls for such a poll. As a result, Atherton is now faced with the prospect of citizen called special election.

While giving residents from San Mateo to Mountain View access to a new library is a worthy goal, it must be accomplished properly. Not only must legal hurdles be surmounted, Atherton constituents must also agree.

Unless Atherton's Council recognizes this reality, they will face inevitable legal challenges. Ignoring divided opinions now will lead to lawsuits later. Those suits will either eat away at the Town's meager finances or the $8.5 million set aside for the library.

It's unfortunate that the five council members could not reach consensus on placing the new library in Holbrook Palmer Park. Instead, the alliance of Dobbie, McKeithen, and Widmer acted unilaterally.

They voted to build a 10,000 square foot library in the Town's only park. This edifice will be the park's new centerpiece, replacing the existing Main House. Once built, the library will be operated by another government agency, the Peninsula Library System.

What is it about this decision that has stirred community interest? Unlike other Council matters, residents will live with this decision for at least the next 50 years. An $8.5 million special use building cannot easily be razed. It's a decision with long-term consequences taken by stewards with short time horizons, namely 4-year terms.

Thankfully, a group of concerned citizens have banded together to seek ratification of the Council's intent to change the park's character and purpose. They want to confirm the Council's direction through either a survey or a vote. It's something the Council should have done itself.

One need only count the attendance at Council meetings to measure the controversy. The Council held a meeting to discuss its Parks and Recreation Commission's recommendation to survey the residents. They had to hold the meeting in a different venue; the Council Chambers could not hold the crowd.

This controversy must be settled before the Town can proceed with Atherton's wonderful gift to the citizens of the south Peninsula. We encourage Atherton residents to sign the petition calling for a vote. Unfortunately, that's the only way your voice will be heard.


Posted by Whoa, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 4, 2012 at 8:04 am

On the thread "Letter: Town should vote on library location", I warned readers that Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis were taking legal actions against the Town they serve, and was roundly criticized by Peter Carpenter and others, who pointed out that a referendum is not litigation.

In the post above by "Point counterpoint," I have been totally vindicated. As I knew all along, Carlson and Lewis will stop at nothing in this tantrum they are throwing for not getting their way.

>>> Unless Atherton's Council recognizes this reality, they will face inevitable legal challenges. Ignoring divided opinions now will lead to lawsuits later. Those suits will either eat away at the Town's meager finances or the $8.5 million set aside for the library.

This is a clear threat of litigation by the Carlson/Lewis machine and its supporters. Either cave into their point of view, or get sued.

Whoa.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 4, 2012 at 9:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"In the post above by "Point counterpoint," I have been totally vindicated."
Please explain - there is nothing in the post by Point counterpoint which verifies that either Lewis or Carlson are involved in legal action against the Town.

Please quit making up things to support your erroneous statements on this matter.


Posted by Local native, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The first comment listed at the top by Community Wish describes the sentiment of the majority accurately and clearly. The Town leaders need to pay attention to the will of the people. Allow the survey! The residents need to sign the petition if the leaders won't listen and represent them fairly. The cost involved in the election is minimal in comparison to a decision that has long lasting impact on the community and that is contrary to the will of the majority.


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