Atherton voters to decide if library gets built in park
Atherton voters will be given the chance to say yes or no to a proposal to build a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park. The City Council endorsed putting the question on the Nov. 6 ballot at a special meeting June 29.
The development is a major victory for a sizable number of vocal residents who oppose building the library in the town's only park. They, along with council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson, have been pushing for giving residents the final say at the ballot box.
Last fall, Mayor Bill Widmer and council members Kathy McKeithen and Jim Dobbie endorsed the park location for an approximately 10,000-square-foot library, following about two years of study and community outreach by a task force of volunteers examining options for replacing the town's cramped, seismically inadequate library in the Town Center.
After months of rancor among residents with opposing positions, and a petition drive still in progress to force the council to put the question to voters, Mayor Widmer and Councilwoman McKeithen called for the June 29 special meeting, saying the time had come to try to heal the town.
The council also indicated its intention, pending final approval on July 25, to put two other facilities-related questions on the November ballot: Whether voters support a proposal now making its way through the town's planning process to build, also in the park, permanent Little League facilities that would include seating for 200; and a plan being developed to rebuild the Town Center, at its present location, with donated funds.
Although the council didn't vote specifically to put the three measures on the ballot, the four members present directed Interim City Manager Theresa DellaSanta to bring the matter back to the council on July 25, along with proposed ballot language. Councilman Dobbie was absent.
Mayor Widmer and Ms. McKeithen indicated they were committed to the library vote, assuring that the question will be on the ballot with at least four-fifths council support.
In bringing the question to the council June 29, the mayor and Councilwoman McKeithen prepared a statement that restated their support for a library in the park, but noted: "... exchanges continue to be heated, misrepresentations abound and we are deeply saddened by the present state of affairs.
"As a consequence, and notwithstanding our belief that a vote on this subject is not the ideal course to take, we are requesting that the ... Council vote to place the issue of a library in the Park on the upcoming November ballot.
"We envision no other course of action that might begin the healing process we believe to be necessary at this time."
Not all peace and harmony
Although early in the meeting it appeared that the four council members present would arrive at rapprochement after so many months of locking horns over the issue, the agreement seemed on the verge of coming apart at the seams as the discussion progressed.
Saying that she was happy the council majority had come to agreement on the library vote, Councilwoman Lewis nevertheless said she was confused by the second part of the staff recommendation calling for a vote on "other potential park and Town Center improvements."
Mayor Widmer explained that the most significant park improvement he wants to seek voter input on is the proposed Little League facilities. Ms. Lewis argued against putting anything more on the ballot than the library issue, saying "the rest muddies the water."
Mr. Widmer rejected that argument, noting that the three issues would be presented separately — three measures with yes-or-no options. And Ms. McKeithen challenged Ms. Lewis' assertion that the Town Center issue isn't controversial like the library, and that therefore a vote isn't needed.
As the debate grew testier and took on increasingly personal tones, Mayor Widmer abruptly slammed the gavel down and announced a recess, during which he conferred with Ms. DellaSanta. When the meeting reconvened, he announced that the interim manager was agreeable to including only the Little League question, and dropping the Town Center vote.
Councilwoman McKeithen strongly opposed that plan, however, successfully pushing for including all three questions on the ballot.
In the end, the vote to present ballot arguments on all three issues to the council in July was 4-0, with Councilwoman Lewis saying, "If this is the only way (residents) can have a voice, and we have to bundle them with other things, I'll vote yes."