Atherton residents surveyed on library in park


By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Atherton residents, whose request to the City Council to survey the town about the placement of a new library was not approved, have taken matters into their own hands and created their own survey.

According to former Atherton mayor Didi Fisher, a link to the online survey was emailed to 1,800 residents of Atherton Monday evening, Oct. 24, and by Tuesday morning, at least 50 people had already taken the survey.

The City Council decided by a 3-2 vote at its Oct. 19 meeting to choose town-owned Holbrook Palmer Park as the "preferred site" for a new library. Council members also voted unanimously to request a special meeting to discuss conducting a master plan study of town facilities and buildings. Petitions bearing at least 300 signatures asking for the master plan were presented to the council at the start of the meeting.

Many of the speakers at the packed meeting had asked the town to conduct a survey.

The survey has 10 questions asking how well informed survey takers are about the library issue, their views on usage of the park, how much they use town facilities, and demographic information.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Atherton resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 25, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Would it not make good sense to include the LINK in this article, for thsoe residents who wnated to participate?

Like this comment
Posted by Survey
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Probably not possible to have a link to the survey. Then anyone from any area can respond. You could contact the town to supply your email address to those sending out the survey and be sent a survey.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned citizen
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Ms. Fisher's "survey" is far from scientific or even-handed. As she writes In her email promoting it, the online form (which can't be read as a whole and, once complete, can't be seen again) is designed to "help us support our arguments with the council." And it's ironic that Didi, a multi-term city council member, now characterizes the current council and those volunteers who have worked on the library project as "a small group of insiders."

The survey and the Master Plan it purports to support are transparent tactics designed to stall progress on the Library while the Town Center crew attempts once again to raid dedicated Library funds to finance their project.

Like this comment
Posted by Awareness and Transparency
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm

The two words that seem to best describe this issue are awareness and transparency. I see no downside to taking our time as a Town to seek resident input and then complete a Master Plan. We have tremendoous land resources and should spend the time it takes to plan these out according to the will of the people. Having the town residents weigh in on this can only make the final product matter what the town residents decide on. Now is the time to break the (seemingly) ongoing cycle of the Town Council telling the residents what to think and have the residents tell the Town Council what their priorities are!

Like this comment
Posted by Live in Atherton
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 25, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I have a question that maybe can be answered here. I understand that Jim Dobbie voted for the new library to be built in Holbrook Palmer Park. His wife is a member of a group, the Atherton Garden Guild. Each member of that group is required to place floral decorations and plants in the Atherton Library at least one week each year. It is a mandatory requirement for membership in this organization. Several members of this group are involved with the Atherton Library Board and I know that Mrs. Dobbie often makes a "pitch' for the library at these meetings. Would this be considered a conflict of interest for Mr. Dobbie? Members of this group have called others, representing themselves as Atherton Gardeners, asking for support for placement of the new library to be at the park. I am not making any judgements, just asking if this is potentially an issue?

Like this comment
Posted by Small Town
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Atherton is a small town, with only a few dozen people involved. There probably is no legal conflict for the Dobbies. Supporters of McKeithen are also on the Friends of the Library and the Library Committee.

What happens in Atherton is that a group supports a couple of people for council and then those council members appoint their supporters to the committees and commissions. For the next election, the council member can run with the endorsement of committee and commission members that he or she appointed.

Like this comment
Posted by Farce!
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 25, 2011 at 7:20 pm

There's no raid on the the library funds. That's a bunch of bunk. It would be against the law to use those funds for a Town Center.

Master plan advocates believe the library site selection process needs to be slowed. A sub-group of these people believe this process has been a sham. The Counsel's very own Park and Rec Commission was ignored. 300 residents were ignored.

The Library Committee, a group of biased advocates, met in "special session" more times than one can count on a hand -- with little notice or opportunity for public participation. They may have even met privately, in violation of the Brown Act's public meeting requirements.

The problem is that on a 3-2 vote, the Council (Widmer, Dobbie, and McKeithen) set in motion a process which will alter Atherton's only park for generations to come. They voted to incent residents from up and down the Peninsula to venture into Atherton's park to enjoy what will undoubtedly be a wonderful new facility. Traffic is certain to increase. The Park will never be the same.

Such a radical change should not be made on a 3-2 vote with people on the sidelines screaming against it. It should not be made with a Library Committee seeking outside counsel to validate their wish to bypass the environmental review process -- against the recommendation of the highly respected City Attorney.

This vote has everything to do with erecting the Kathleen McKeithen Community Center (and library) in Holbrook Palmer Park, regardless of the residents' desires. Voters be damned!

A library well may belong in the Park. But, only with a credible Master Plan for all of the Town's buildings will the Atherton taxpayers be assured that the choice is proper and made for the correct reasons.

Like this comment
Posted by Heather L.
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 26, 2011 at 8:12 am

I don't see Dobbie's vote as a legal conflict of interest, but I do see it as a conflict. His wife is required to support the library and the Atherton garden group has make a decision to support the new library location in the park. I know that she has made pleas in their meetings for support of this new location. She reminds members to keep their requirements of support by purchasing and placing plants at the library weekly. She would be outsted from this organization if she were to oppose their decision. Looking at it from this standpoint I Mr. Dobbie should have recused himself.

Like this comment
Posted by Behind the Scene
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 26, 2011 at 9:24 am

How far the support and conversations can exist without a conflict is a good question. Vice-Mayor Widmer will become Mayor shortly, his web site states that he is independent minded. However his support goes to Dobbie and McKeithen, as they have voted him vice-mayor.

The position of Mayor is rotated amoung the council members. This year was Elizabeth Lewis' turn. She ran the Parcel Tax Campaign in 2009. She earned the time to be Vice-Mayor and Mayor.

When the vote was being taken for Elizabeth Lewis to be Vice-Mayor, all three of them remained silent. Lewis only received two of the needed three votes. Then Dobbie nominated Widmer for Vice-Mayor, and it passed 3-2.

It is very unusual for a newly elected council member to become Vice-Mayor as he starts his council career. For this to have happened, someone must have advised Widmer, he had the votes to skip over Lewis.

Should she decide to run, Lewis would have been running for re-election as Mayor in 2012. Probably against McKeithen, who will be seeking her fourth term. McKeithen ran on term limits, back in 2000.

For the three to not have voted for Lewis, someone must have advised Vidmer, he had the votes to be vice-mayor. Which is a Brown Act violation.

Now the three vote together and decide to build a library, without knowing if the residents of the town want and need a new library.

McKeithen gets her library and Widmer becomes mayor.

Like this comment
Posted by Petty bickering
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 26, 2011 at 9:36 am

Behind the Scene, you are describing something (a council member whose natural rotation is passed over) as a conspiracy when it happened to Elizabeth Lewis for vice mayor last December.

What about just two years earlier, when Kathy McKeithen was supposed to be mayor according to natural rotation, but Jerry Carlson voted for himself instead, along with his allies Elizabeth Lewis and Charles Marsala? Was that a conspiracy also?

The bottom line is there has been plenty of partisanship all the way around with these council members. It either is conspiratorial or not, but certainly not selectively.

Where I come from, we'd be happy to have had a brand new library built.

The real scandal and conspiracy here is that Didi Fisher, Charles Marsala, Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis want to take the money from the library in the ponzi scheme Marsala concocted to have the library buy the decrepit council chambers to move into, so this money can be used to build a new town center for the police department. [Portion deleted.]

Like this comment
Posted by SWJ
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm

SWJ is a registered user.

After reading all of the above, going to the open meeting of the Library Committee and the Town Council meeting last Thursday, and responding to Ms. Fisher's Survey, I believe the whole issue is 'Much Ado' about a very reasonable 'process' recommendation and Council vote. The Council would have been derelict not to have accepted the Committee's recommendation.

In many of the comments to this article and at the Council meeting one would think the sky is falling, rather than there having been a three year Council initiated referral and fact finding by a group of hard working citizens. The 'name calling' by a small number of Luddites wanting to ostensibly incorporate the new library into the Town Center is holding back a process which has some way to go as all the Council has done is to approve the Committee's recommendation that the Holbrook Palmer park be preferred over the existing site. The name calling is really quite gauche; these fellow citizens have worked extremely hard and deserve our heartfelt thanks. Some comments seem to believe there are other sites somewhere out there. Where are those sites?

The downside, to respond to one of the comments is that a well thought out process has worked for three years and now for some unclear reason a group raises a last minute hail Mary tactic, need of a Master Plan, to try to get in the way of a much needed new facility to replace an unsafe structure. We need to get going to finish this work and not take continued risks with our childrens' and other residents' safety. Coordination amongst the plans being considered can be easily accomplished without halting progress. The 'Master Plan' is a Red Herring just recently put forward by a group who, and I hope I am not unduly cynical, has some unclear ulterior motive. (I was unaware of the "Ponzi" scheme referred to in a prior comment.) If there really is something the matter with moving away from the cramped and noisy location the library currently resides in, it surely will come to light in the CEQA that still must be done.

Like this comment
Posted by WaltKelley05
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

WaltKelley05 is a registered user.

Putting a Regional Library in the park and turning over several acres for the building, parking, and egress is major change to Atherton's only green space. All residents should be allowed to vote on this issue. The Park and Recreation Commission, two current council members, and all the former council members of Atherton have supported surveying the residents.

It should take more than a 3-2 council vote to alter the town.

Going back to the 1950s the council has surveyed the residents on how they want the park used. For those of us that want to keep open space in the park, we would like the chance to vote on the issue.

We need to focus on the issues. There are no "Hail Mary's tactics", no "Ponzi Schemes", and no "the Law" requires Atherton to turn over acres of its only park for a regional library.

Petty Bickering went back four years to when Jim Janz nominated Jerry Carlson to be vice-mayor. Since Kathy McKeithen had already been mayor and Jerry Carlson had yet to be mayor, wouldn't the natural rotation be for Carlson to have been mayor a first time before McKeithen was mayor a second time?

Is the council still bickering over this? Lewis was not even on the council when Janz nominated Carlson.

I don't see the current survey as a "Hail Mary" Tactic with an ulterior motive. Rather, why didn't the council have a agenda item months ago to survey the residents or have a discussion item on location of the library.

I think "Ponzi Scheme" is name calling. In a couple of years the town will have almost $8,000,000 dollars to spend on library expansion in some way.

Marsala pointed out last week that if the town wanted to turn over the council chambers to the library for expansion, library funds could be used to renovate the chambers. That use could qualify under the JPA agreement as expansion. He has a website with a statement and video discussing the Town Center and library. Council Chambers could be turned over with or without any compensation.

If the town does not want to turn over acres of the park to the library then what happens to the $5M-$8M in library reserves?

Hopefully there will be more than 2 council votes to survey the residnets and live by survey.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Disposing of Disposables
By Sherry Listgarten | 21 comments | 2,238 views

Couples Counseling, Al Pacino Style
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,704 views

Facing high kitchen turnover, Los Altos' The Post revamps majority of its menu
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 1,479 views

Expect Years of Unprecedented Traffic Congestion and More Empty Storefronts
By Dana Hendrickson | 12 comments | 952 views

By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 269 views