Editorial: Scope of Menlo Park library study far too narrow


In the late 1990s, the city of Menlo Park partnered with the Ravenswood City School District to create a community library on the Belle Haven Elementary School campus that would be open to the public when school wasn't in session. It was a major step toward acknowledging that significant city services were not reaching across the Bayshore freeway into the Belle Haven community.

That library branch opened in spring 1999, and in spite of its limitations, a recent preliminary study by the city's Library Commission indicates that Belle Haven residents are more active library users than residents in other areas of the city.

That fact, coupled with the difficulty for Belle Haven children, and even some adults, to access a library across the freeway in the city's Civic Center, raises a critical question about the recent effort to identify the city's library needs, and map out options to meet those needs into the future: Why have the recent library-needs studies focused only on the library's main branch?

According to a staff report by Library Services Director Susan Holmer, three studies have been undertaken since January 2015 "looking at library services and the needs of the Menlo Park community." The third, recently released study lays out three options to either renovate or completely rebuild the main library, with each option designed to allow the city "to respond to the community's changing patterns of library use." But considering that the Belle Haven library and its many users weren't included in these studies, one has to ask which community's needs are being considered -- a question that residents east of the Bayshore are legitimately asking.

The Menlo Park City Council at its March 28 study session was right to balk at the price tag included in the report on the three main library options -- estimated at a minimum of $32 million. But the council needs to show a firm commitment to including the Belle Haven community going forward as the city plans its future library services for the entire community.

Would it benefit main library patrons if the existing 33,000-square-foot branch were expanded by 11,000 square feet? Of course. But with limited funding, what should be the city's priorities in providing library services to the entire community? Could reconfiguring poorly used space in the existing main branch in a less expensive project, and redirecting funds to improve library services in Belle Haven be a more equitable option, improving services for everyone? Could some of the needs identified as beneficial for young people, such as collaborative spaces and a "maker space," be adequately met in existing city facilities, such as the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center? And does the main library really need a cafe?

There are many options to explore in reviewing the community's library needs, but only by including the Belle Haven neighborhood in any review of library services will the council be able to make fair and responsible decisions on the future of those services in Menlo Park.

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9 people like this
Posted by local mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

From the library foundation site:
"In 1992 the main library building was expanded and refurbished through a $5-million bond issue. The Belle Haven branch was opened in 1999 to serve as both a community and school library." Just a couple years ago, the children's area of the main library under went a major renovation. Isn't it a bit soon to renovate the main library yet again?

6 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm

I appreciate this editorial and the issues it raises. I'll like to say that an even larger issue is why there is not representation from this community on the City Council itself? If there was even one voice truly representing the Belle Haven community, I don't think that we would have gotten this far before realizing this need. In what other areas might the City Council, admittedly trying hard to learn about all the needs of residents, be missing the boat?

When will the City Council consider what it was brought up in 2013, which is reorganizing to have representation from all communities in MP? This is what SUHSD has just done and it's time for MP to consider such a move.

1 person likes this
Posted by complex
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2017 at 6:45 pm

Concerned asks, "why there is not representation from this community on the City Council itself?"

Even thought Belle Haven is only about 10% of the voting population of Menlo Park, Belle Haven resident Billy Ray White was the top vote getter out of 8 candidates In 1982. Billy Ray served on the planning commission in the 70's, and served as mayor three times.

Concerned states, "reorganizing to have representation from all communities... is what SUHSD has just done and it's time for MP to consider such a move."

The high school district is very large. With Redwood City and most of East Palo Alto in the same district, it's likely Georgia Jack will be re-elected there. The redistricting line is at 101, cutting Ravenswood in two.

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Turnout is what counts most in any local election.

Pick the person that you want to represent your neighborhood and then encourage everyone to vote and to vote for only that person and it is very likely that you will succeed.

Like this comment
Posted by complex
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm

With so many people voting by mail, having an excellent candidate statement is half the battle.

Peter Carpenter's candidate statement is a perfect example of an excellent candidate statement.

2 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:07 pm


What is your opinion about reorganizing the council to allow for a representative who specifically represents the Belle Haven area? Upon what do you base this opinion?

2 people like this
Posted by complex
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2017 at 8:56 am

Concerned asks about reorganizing the council to "allow" for a representative who specifically represents the Belle Haven area.

The election code allows for any number of candidates from the Belle Haven area to be elected.

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

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