Editorial: Hands off Atherton library fundsThe current plan by Atherton City Council member Charles Marsala to take millions of dollars from the town's dedicated library fund should be scrapped before any more time is wasted.
We can understand that Mr. Marsala and his colleagues on the Blue Ribbon Task Force for a new town center are desperately looking for ways to finance a new Town Hall to replace the totally inadequate and decrepit quarters now used by town staff. At the police department, for example, female officers do not even have their own locker room. It is a disgrace in a town that takes pride in its estate-sized properties and spends most of its budget on police services.
We seriously doubt that the elaborate shell game put together by Mr. Marsala and his colleagues to "sell" the old council chambers to the library by taking the fair market value from the $4 million-plus in the library's Donor City Fund would be accepted by the community. Instead, there should be an open discussion among the council, the library joint powers board members and the community to see if some library funds could be used to start a town center project that includes a new library.
But if library supporters cannot be persuaded to get on board, the Blue Ribbon Task Force should switch gears and focus on taking funding for a sensible project to the voters in a few years, without using library funds. The intervening time could be used to drum up support for the plan, hopefully from a few lead donors who could give the project some much-needed respect.
Taking the library money without approval of library supporters would launch any town center project on a sour note, rather than build the momentum needed to sell a new town hall to the community. Given the considerable wealth of its 2,000-plus households, Atherton residents would surely be willing to back a bond issue or donate their own funds for a well-designed town hall project.
Joan Sanders, president of the Friends of the Atherton Community Library, is livid about Mr. Marsala's idea, and put it this way in a May 23 resignation letter to the Blue Ribbon Task Force:
"In view of this latest assault on the library funds, it is inconceivable for me to remain on the Blue Ribbon Task Force. My remaining on the Task Force may seem to lend an acceptance of the BRTF to use of our library funds for purposes other than for library needs. Mr. Marsala has tried to 'sell' the library a building we do not want, build an auditorium unsuitable for our needs, give us an 'exclusive right' to a building we don't want, all calling for a use of a validated portion of our library funds."
She goes on to say, "The library should be able to use every dollar of its funds to develop a vibrant, useful, up-to-code, and seismically stable space with an upgraded interior, increased computer capacity, and a distinguished collection for use by all Atherton residents, young and old."
If Mr. Marsala sincerely wants to bring a new town hall project to Atherton, he should persuade fellow council members to put the issue before the voters. Anyone who doubts that a small town can design and build a first-class town center need only look a few miles west to Portola Valley's new $18 million town center, built almost entirely with funds donated by town residents. It is a state-of-the-art green building, and it includes a new library.