Atherton council meets to decide ballot language
With an Aug. 10 deadline facing the town, the Atherton City Council will convene a special meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, to approve ballot language for three measures to be decided by voters in November — including whether a library should be built in Holbrook-Palmer Park
After months of rancor among residents on the issue, the council agreed late last month to put the question to voters, along with measures related to a proposal to build Little League facilities in the park, and a plan to rebuild the Town Center.
The council voted 3-2 last year, with council members Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis opposed, to build a library in the park to replace the existing, seismically unsound facility in the Town Center.
The issue has divided the community as well as the council, and after an attempt by Mayor Bill Widmer to win council approval of a telephone survey of residents failed, council members decided that an official vote would be the only way to proceed.
City Attorney Bill Conners is proposing language for two of the three measures, but is asking the council for clarification about what voters should be asked regarding the building of a new Town Center.
"While staff believes that the council has previously stated it is in favor of a new Town Center funded predominantly by public donations, it is unclear what direction the council seeks from the voters," Interim City Manager Theresa DellaSanta wrote in a report to the council.
Plans for construction projects in the town's only park have drawn criticism from people who live near Holbrook-Palmer, and those who use it for quiet space and low-impact recreation.
Opposition to the library plan also comes from people who want to keep the facility in the Town Center, and from a number of residents who think that building a larger facility with state-of-the-art features in the park would draw more people from out of town, crowding the park and worsening traffic.
The proposed ballot language for the library measure is: "Should the town of Atherton construct a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park using funds dedicated for library purposes only, and not using any existing park open space for this purpose?"
The measure on the Little League question centers on a proposal by the youth organization brought before the council last year.
The proposed ballot language is: "Should the town permit Little League to erect and maintain spectator bleachers in the existing area used by that organization for playing baseball in Holbrook-Palmer Park?"
The Little League plan, which includes full payment by the organization of all proposed amenities, is currently being reviewed by the town's Planning Commission.
The council voted on June 29, with Councilman Jim Dobbie absent, to place the three measures on the ballot.
In bringing the matter to the council, the Mayor Widmer and Councilwoman Kathy 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. ... We envision no other course of action that might begin the healing process we believe to be necessary at this time."
Although the vote was 4-0, Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis argued against putting anything more on the ballot than the library issue, saying "the rest muddies the water." But after other council members indicated they would support the recommendation to put all three issues before voters, she said, "If this is the only way (residents) can have a voice (on the library), and we have to bundle them with other things, I'll vote yes."
The Wednesday meeting will be in the Council Chambers at 94 Ashfield Road, in the Town Center.