Atherton council, again, rejects survey on new library
• Atherton is split on whether to build a new library in the park.
One thing is clear in Atherton right now: Residents have not come to an amiable agreement about whether their new library should be built in town-owned Holbrook-Palmer Park.
Some are even talking about putting the issue on the ballot for the voters to decide.
Where to site the library was back before the council for the third time in a month at the Nov. 16 council meeting, and nearly 50 people filled the seats in the Jennings Pavilion in Holbrook-Palmer Park.
The council had two items on the agenda that directly affect the library and one other that could indirectly affect it.
The first was surveying the town's residents to get their opinions about where the library should be placed. The second was authorizing an environmental impact report needed so the library project can go forward. The third is whether the town should resume renting out the park for events, an action that could use up parking spaces that may eventually be needed by the library.
The survey was on the agenda, even though some council members felt they had disposed of it last month, because it was a recommendation from the town's Park and Recreation Committee and town rules require such recommendations be discussed and voted on.
Councilwoman Kathy McKiethen, who is on the committee that came up with the recommendation to put the library in the park, had a two-page summary of the reasons she is against a survey. Among the reasons was that, due to complexity of the issue, "it would be impossible for a resident to make a knowledgeable response to the supposedly simple question 'do you favor a library in Holbrook-Palmer Park?'"
That didn't sit well with some in the audience. "When I am told that the issue is so complex that I shouldn't worry my little head, then I can't decide whether to be insulted or suspicious," resident Jonathan Tiemann said.
Earl Nielsen agreed. "We can't trust the intelligence of Atherton — you're kidding?" he said.
Ms. McKiethen insisted that she had not meant that, however. "I didn't say the people of Atherton aren't smart," she said.
Resident John Ruggeiro said people in Atherton fall into three groups regarding the library site. Some want it in the park, some want it in a new town center complex, and some want it where it is now.
"We need a survey," he said. "It's very obvious we need a survey."
He then asked those in the room to raise their hands if they favor a survey on the library site. Three-quarters of those in room raised their hands.
There were those in the room who did not support a survey, however. "It is time to move on and not try to keep changing that decision," said Karen Bliss, president of the Friends of the Atherton Library.
She suggested that those who don't agree with the council members who chose the park as a site, can "throw the bums out" at the next election. "I'm embarrassed to live in Atherton," she said "Lately I think some of the behavior exhibited in this town is downright shameful."
Walter Sleeth also opposed a survey. "This issue has gone on ad nauseam," he said. "The quiet majority of residents believe .... that a survey vote is a waste of town resources."
At the end, the council once again decided not to survey town residents. Mayor James Dobbie voted with Ms. McKeithen against a proposal to hold a survey. Both had voted to choose the park as the preferred site for the library last month. Council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson, who had voted against the park as the library site, voted for a survey. Bill Widmer, who had voted with council members McKeithen and Dobbie about the park site, abstained from voting. That left a 2-2 tie, with the proposal failing because it had not gained a majority.
Mr. Carlson brought up the issue of a ballot measure on the library. "I'm concerned that if a voluntary- or a council-initiated-type poll is not initiated or forthcoming, there could be .... a citizens' grassroots effort that could result in a more binding outcome," he said. "There are certainly costs of a poll, but I think a formal election could be more costly."
There was less discussion about the environmental impact report that must be done before the library-building project can go ahead. Councilwoman Lewis voted against starting the environmental review process, citing worry about the cost, which will come from the library construction funds.
She and Councilman Carlson voted against changing the contract with the environmental report group to do the more extensive review needed because of public controversy about the park site.
Council members also voted, as they had done last month, to put off a decision on whether they should resume booking large events in the park, asking for more information about the cost to the town for such events.
In April the town stopped taking bookings for events in the park for 2012, since there are plans to build the new library there and the town had been losing money by staging events.
But the council had been asked to reconsider the matter since it appears that any library construction would not start in 2012, and the town has adopted a new way of staffing events that should cut the town's losses.
The report from the public works department estimated that the town could make a profit of $90,000, after expenses, by renting out park buildings for events such as weddings and birthday parties in 2012.
But council members said they did not believe that all costs were included in the report and asked for more investigation.