Holbrook-Palmer Park is still best library site, Atherton councilwoman Kathy McKeithen says


Building a two-story library in the park is still the best course for Atherton, City Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen said this week, commenting on the draft environmental report that said the proposed library would intensify the traffic-congestion problem at Watkins Avenue and El Camino Real.

"There's absolutely no question that the park is far and away the best location as far as the EIR (environmental impact report) is concerned," said Ms. McKeithen, a member of the town's library task force that recommended building a new facility in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Regarding the Watkins/El Camino traffic impact, the EIR says that all alternative projects studied in the environmental review would significantly impact the intersection, she noted.

And although the EIR stated that there is no feasible way to mitigate the intersection's traffic backups resulting from the new library, Ms. McKeithen said she's not so sure. A possible solution, she said, is to ban left-hand turns from Watkins onto southbound El Camino all the time, rather than only 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, as the restriction now exists.

Critics of the plan to build a library in the park -- including former mayor Didi Fisher, who is gathering signatures to put the question on the ballot -- could not be reached for comment before press time.

Ms. McKeithen, Mayor Bill Widmer, and Councilman Jim Dobbie formed the council 3-2 majority that voted last October to support a library in the park.

Mayor Widmer noted last week that his support was contingent on the EIR findings, leaving the door open to reconsider his support of the project, which has generated intense criticism by a number of vocal residents.

As of late last week, Mr. Widmer said he had yet to thoroughly study the EIR, and was going to hold his judgment until he had a chance to do so.

Just as the traffic congestion at El Camino and Watkins is expected to increase significantly under any alternative studied, Middlefield Road's intersection with Watkins is also expected to be affected by any of the options. But the EIR listed a traffic signal at that intersection as a mitigation measure that would reduce the impact to "less than significant."

Denise Kupperman, a leading figure on the library task force, acknowledged that a new library in the park would create additional traffic at the two intersections, but noted that "this is the case regardless of where it is located, and ... these intersections already have issues that need to be addressed." The traffic impacts are rated "significant" as defined by the California Environmental Quality Act, but in fact "are not major," she said.

Opposing views

Opponents of building a library in the park cite a range of concerns, including the desire to keep the park quiet and pristine, and its use limited largely to Atherton residents. (Regional in nature, libraries are open to anyone.)

But many opponents have cited the inevitable increase in traffic and parking needs should the library be built in the park.

John Ruggeiro, a Transportation Committee member, said he has long been concerned with traffic impacts resulting from a library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, and committee members have requested that the matter be put on the Transportation Committee agenda. That request has been denied by the town, he said.

The EIR studied alternatives that included a smaller-scale library in the park -- a one-story building of 10,000 gross square feet and about 8,900 square feet of usable space. The proposed project will allow a building of up to 13,500 square feet, although Councilwoman McKeithen said the building would likely be smaller than that.

By removing the second floor, however, a key goal of library advocates would be foiled: The creation of a community gathering place that would include a new town heritage room, and meeting and activity space for arts and civic programs.

The smaller-scale option is further complicated by the plan to tear down the Main House to make way for the new library. The Main House, in spite of its age and rat-infestation problems, is now used by the town's Arts Committee, the Holbrook-Palmer Park Foundation, the Atherton Dames, and the Atherton Civic Interest League, among other community uses.

If the town reduces the size of the library, those community groups -- which would have found a home on the proposed library's second floor -- would have to find other sites to operate from.

Other alternatives analyzed in the EIR were a renovation and expansion of the existing library in the Town Center, and construction of a library within a new Town Center, which may be built in a number of years using mostly donated funds.

The EIR cited an environmental impact unique to the existing library alternative: a significant, unavoidable impact to historic resources. The historic building, which needs a seismic retrofit, would be greatly altered if expanded to meet the minimum space needs identified by a recent library needs assessment study. The expansion also would significantly reduce the existing outdoor space, including part or all of the reading garden.

Both the existing library alternative and the new library in a rebuilt Town Center option would have to mitigate noise impacts, including the noise from the trains that roar down the nearby tracks.

The draft EIR will be reviewed at the April 25 Planning Commission meeting.

Go to Library environmental impacts to read the draft EIR.

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Like this comment
Posted by Do Not Pass Go
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm

High Speed Rail is not the only railroad in town. This project is being forced down our throats. Has the General Plan Committee had a chance to express an opinion? No- the General Plan Committee has not met in almost a year. The Transportation Committee is being blocked from even talking about it! The EIR is a joke. Just because the other sites would create similar traffic congestion does not recommend the Park as "There's absolutely no question that the park is far and away the best location as far as the EIR (environmental impact report) is concerned."
THREE council members are deciding what the community wants without so much as a survey or a ballot.

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Posted by Alice H. Hansen
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Members of our family have lived in Atherton since 1953. In the past, most town council members were sensitive to the electorate.

At this point in time, the town council sounds like the High Speed Rail Authority.

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Posted by Crush those Opposing
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 3, 2012 at 9:08 pm

The Park and Recreation Commission voted that the council should do a survey and was refused. Members of the Environmental Programs Committee opposed the library in the park and the committee was disbanded by the council. The Transportation Committee can not discuss the library in the park per the council.

The council appoints members to all committees. Will the council majority seek to appoint only those that support its position?

Library funds must be used for library needs, how can those funds be used to build a second floor for town needs?

Let the residents vote. We need to preserve open space. There is no need to use up park space just because there is $5,000,000 sitting in the bank.

Let us vote.

Numerous people have posted what a great wedding they had at the park and no one has posted they saw rats during their wedding.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If the five elected Town Council members cannot all agree on where to locate the new library and how to best utilize our only significant park then this issue should be submitted to a binding decision by the voters.

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Posted by Ebook reader
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Building a two story library is the most out of date idea yet. Libraries are obsolete.

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Posted by question to PC
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 5, 2012 at 1:19 am

Peter, which issues require a unanimous council vote (and if it can't happen, then require a voter referendum), and which issues do not?

Can you draw the line for us in an objective, consistent and easily applicable way? One for which any situation in the future can get pre-categorized by the rule you obviously have in mind?

This is a representative democratic form of government, just like we have on the state and national level, not a direct democracy. There are pros and cons of both, but the balance seems to have tilted to a representative form of government in most Western nations (all, I believe).

You are really saying that this one issue (or perhaps the others that fall under the rule I have challenged you to draft) requires a direct democracy instead of a representative democracy.

Yes, a national vote on healthcare might have a different result than what our representatives (and Supreme Court) have and will come up with. A national vote on taxes would have a drastically different result than what our representatives have come up with, I believe. The representatives are tasked with paying attention to these issues and voting with their constituents' desires in mind but not in lock step with.

Here in Atherton, if I'm not mistaken, the public has been given multiple opportunities to participate in this process, and did not in any meaningful way until an outcry started based on the council action, where the outcry is by a small, vocal group in opposition, where such group has promised to use fund raising to change people's minds. Not that there's anything wrong with that...but it illustrates why a representative form of government is used in preference to a direct democracy oftentimes.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 5, 2012 at 4:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"which issues require a unanimous council vote (and if it can't happen, then require a voter referendum), and which issues do not?"

As stated above and on other Forum threads I believe that absent a unanimous council vote a citizen referendum is appropriate when the issue involves a permanent and significant change in the Town's only park and the Town's only library.

If,as some suggest, there is only a small vocal group opposed to the park site for the library then that will be clearly reflected in the voting on this issue.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 5, 2012 at 9:56 am

While I'm not an Atherton resident, I do recognize that cities and government need to be strategic in how they spend their money. Will building a new library be the best investment, or as Ebook stated above are they outdated?

This is a big investment for the size of Atherton. How much is the current library used today and does the Town believe there will be an increase if a new one is built? Businesses often use the old "ROI"; it certainly applies to government as well. Elected officials need to be in communication with their constituents. What do the residents of the Town want? The Council Members need to ask not wait for residents to come to Council.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2012 at 11:00 am

It's amazing to read the comments about the Library -- some say it will cause too much traffic, others say no one will use it because libraries are obsolete. Both arguments are nonsense.

Bravo for the city official that courageously spoke up for the Library.

Libraries are not shopping centers, restaurants, or gas stations. Locating a library in the park is a great idea. It's a perfect contemplative spot. Maybe park users will check out a book before, during, or after their visit to the park -- or vice-versa, a trip to the Library will encourage more use of the park. Libraries are not obsolete.

Whatever the scenario, libraries do not cause traffic jams. When I use the library for its book club, the computers, the collection of best sellers, the friendly social events etc., there has always been a friendly atmosphere.

Atherton is a closed community. Clearly, if Atherton won't allow a Library, residents don't want to allow anything -- or anyone -- to enter the community. This is not only hostile, it is unAmerican.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 5, 2012 at 11:39 am

Neighbor - You falsly state "if Atherton won't allow a library...."
Atherton already has a library which is part of a regional library system. And that library has a small park right next to it which is seldom used by the library patrons.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I'm confused -- isn't this library project to replace the existing library?

Mr. Carpenter: How do you know how many folks use the open space around the existing building? Do you have counts? Those who are more contentious on this issue suggest relocating the library will overrun the park, but you seem to suggest no one from the library even uses the open space next to the existing building.

When I drive on those streets I rarely, if ever, encounter another car. Atherton has virtually no traffic and the traffic argument is nonsense.

All in all, Atherton's opposition to this issue suggests that there might be 100% community support for building a wall around the entire town.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

The plan is to build a new library. The issue is wether the new library will be located where the existing library is located or on the site of the existing Main House in the park.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Sorry to be obtuse, but Idon't understand what makes McKeithen such an expert on this issue. I love that park, & do use the library, but that doesn't mean the 2 need to be combined in 1 location.

I've noticed, as this area's gotten more crowded, that there's a dearth of quiet outdoor space. Sure, we all have to share. But there are so many cyclists & loud groups of people using so many outdoor recreation sites that I understand the desire to keep things on the wuieter, more peaceful side for the park. I say this even though Atherton's standard, snotty attitude that I've been around most of my life elicits eye rolling from myself & many others.

I've been to many small parks, outdoor cafes, etc. where you're also exposed to a lot of street noise & pollution. It's really nice to have a suburban escape from that & Holbrook Palmer is one of those escapes. Myself & many others I know have our "secret" escape areas - little hidden gardens or particular wild spots that are peaceful. The park has always been one for me & I have a number of friends in the area who consider it the same. It's not a given that a library at the park would ruin that, but it's more likely.

I also want to point out that it's a safe place for local older & disabled folks to get fresh air & exercise. Us younger &/or more able folks have the benefit of being able to more safely go off the beaten path, but that's not the case for everyone else. I love seeing how many seniors & the disabled use libraries, parks & other public amenities regularly & safely.

I don't understand the insistence that the park be the place for the new library.

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Posted by kathybegone
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm

The current library stays open until 8 p.m. Who is going to police the park at night if the library is located there. Will the town have to provide police security at night? Currently the library is located a few yards from the police department and there is not much room for loitering or troublemaking. There are considerable extra costs related to putting the library in the park and they were not spelled out in the EIR. Let's put it to a vote of the residents.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm

To Hmmm : I'm both older and disabled -- and would love to have the library located in the Park. Seems like the perfect place to me.

To kathybegone: 8pm in Atherton is not exactly threatening. In fact, reading the local "crime reports' in the Almanac or Palo Alto Weekly is hysterically funny. There are lots of "someone is parked on the public street in front of my house" reports.

Yes, the current library is next to the police --but they are usually out on patrol collecting the mail for vacationing residents, or looking out for people who "look like they don't belong" who might drive 27 mph in a 25 mph zone.

Sounds like Atherton is determined to post "Keep Out" signs on their town. They can't even build a library without getting hysterical. Absurd.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 5:24 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Neighbor - There is no posting "of Keep Out' signs. Everyone is welcome at the Atherton library. As noted, Atherton already operates a public library as part of a regional system.

There is also no hysteria - We are simply engaging in a rational discussion of how best to use the very limited open space resources available while enhancing our existing library facility. If the Town Council cannot agree on this very long term issue then the citizens should decide in the normal democratic process.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

Mr. Carpenter
Clearly the "Keep Out" reference was a metaphor for the "don't build anything or spend anything" mentality in this extremely wealthy town. The yards in the Atherton homes are larger than most urban parks and the park's vitality might be be enhanced by a library.

Every proposal in Atherton (and Menlo + PA) is fought with over-the-top "discussion" --- as you well know. You try to moderate, but still there is no perspective. Any change seems to be regarded as an effort by crazy/overpaid/corrupt/radical planners to change a sylvan paradise into Manhattan.

People are way too wound up. At a local book event I attended, citizens rose to harangue the audience about local planning projects rather than discuss the book. There was an assembled audience, it was their right to hijack the program. An absurd out-of-place act of self-importance.

And yes...this current park discussion reeks of hostility towards outsiders passing through the town who might, god forbid, use the library or park facilities.

Atherton will still be an absolutely beautiful town after the Library brouhaha is over -- but how many of these contentious "discussions" will it take to undermine the town's spirit?

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Posted by Peter Neighbor
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Neighbor - the only hostility is that which you are trying to create. Son't hijack a reasonable discussion to spread your own prejudices.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Since I make it a practice of never posting anonymously let me clarify that the above post by "Peter Neighbor" was mine and I labelled it in error as I was typing ahed to respond to Neighbor.


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Posted by Walt
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 29, 2012 at 9:39 am

Atherton was chosen by the county as a place to put public schools. We also two private schools and a college. Everyday those schools alone increase the population of Atherton by 50%. We are not a closed society.

There are several factors going on:
1. The EIR states that increased traffic to an expanded library will require a traffic light at Watkins and Middlefield and a turn lane at El Camino.

2. Yet at any meeting promoting the library only 8-10 people show up to push for the library in the park. Two of those are council members and 4-5 are friends of the library.

3. Those who want to keep the free space, simply ask for a vote.

Editor's note: The same IP address posted as "William" on another but related thread. Please use one name for each IP address.

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Posted by mary awbrey
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm

There is a letter circulating under the auspices of "Friends of Holbrook-Palmer Park" asking for money to ensure that a new library is built in the park after the November election and urging recipients to promote the park location for a new library.

As a true friend of H-P Park I take issue with the bogus use of "friend" of the park. Hopefully, there are enough true friends of the park to vote NO in November on Prop. F so that the public continues to be welcomed at BOTH a warm and inviting library (not located in the park) and at our beautiful Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Neither facility have ever seemed "snooty" to anyone I know and, in my opinion, the general public needs to appreciate the efforts of thoughtful townspeople who are working to maintain the best of both facilities for all to enjoy in the coming years.

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

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