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Debate over Atherton library heats up

Original post made on Sep 13, 2011

Should the town of Atherton survey residents about where to rebuild the town's library? That's what a number of vocal residents are asking the town to do before the City Council decides whether to relocate the library to Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 8:34 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by Requesting Information
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:05 am

Hopefully someone will answer my questions, so I can be better informed.
1.With all the recreation resources, school events, and Country Clubs nearby and few people attending events in the Park, why does need a community center? Who is going to staff it?
2. With libraries at Menlo College, Menlo School, M-A School, Sacred Heart, St. Joseph's, Selby, and Menlo Library close by; why does Atherton need a bigger library?
3. Since this is a Regional Library how many additional cars a day will come into Atherton?
4. Why did members of the council oppose the M-A Preforming Arts Center and Cargill project for increasing traffic in Atherton and they do not oppose a Regional Library?
5. If a Library in the Park does not need additional Parking spaces, then do we currently have parking spaces we can convert to green space?
6. How many visits a year does the county forecast for the new library?
7. What is the last annual count of visits for the library?
8. What percent of visits come from Atherton?
9. Could funds be given to Menlo College or Selby as a library partnership?
10. Will extra Police services be needed?
11. What green space will taken?

Posted by laughing
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Good idea! Extra police services for late book returns! What a joke. This place needs to STOP wasting money. A new library is not needed.

Posted by Park After Hours
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Something I had not thought about? What happens during the Winter? Does the Park close at Sunset? How late is the library open? Has the park had problems with people remaining after hours?

Posted by long time resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm

We have lived in Atherton 17 years and my kids have never used the Atherton library when they can go another mile and use MP's large library. I thought the town was hurting for money, what is the town council thinking.

Posted by Atherton Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Retrofit the library, keep it's small footprint and stop this proposed waste of money now. Leave the park alone so people can enjoy it. We don't need the police coming over to tell kids to be quiet so library patrons can concentrate on thier web surfing.

Posted by Happy Atherton library user
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

The library committee (comprised of only "Friends of the Library" people) is going to spend their $5 to $8 (?) millions excess dollars of our tax money because of a Needs Assessment report that was based on one single survey (available for less than one month in 2009) that got only 146 responses. Only 69 of those were identified as Atherton residents which includes 41 self-identified as "Friends of the Library"—so these same library committee people, their spouses, children and friends. The report even says that the response rate is NOT STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT. Furthermore, despite what the Needs Assessment (Anne-Marie Despain) chose as their/her recommendation (to more than double the size of the library), virtually ALL of the actual responses make clear that users were happy with the library! Everyone raved about its small size and intimate setting, as a plus. The recommendation to increase the size comes straight from Anne-Marie Despain, the Director of Library Services for San Mateo Co., (and author of the Needs Assessment and holder of obscure and private statistics about Atherton library usage which very few people who actually use the library can believe), who just wants a bigger library in Atherton. Atherton residents should read the Needs Assessment report (a whopping 106 pages of general library propaganda), available on the Town's website at: Web Link

Posted by SoccermomRef
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I think only those people who currently hold a library card should be able to vote on where the library should go. I mean really, who uses teh library?

Posted by Thocrates
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Meeting space? Really?!

Since when is it the library's job to provide meeting spaces for a community? Aren't they meant to provide a repository for books?

The library director's comments are classic bureaucratic expansion of mission to justify their existence. Books are being digitized; they take less space. So, now the library has to evolve to provide community meeting space.

Just who will be using this space? Atherton residents or members from other communities looking for a free place to get together? At least now the Town gets revenue from meetings at the Park. Seems like that would all go away.

This white elephant does NOT belong in the park. There's no justification for an 11,000 sq ft ediface that costs $8million when the existing facility can be made perfectly adequate.

Posted by Readinanwritin
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 13, 2011 at 6:57 pm

As an Atherton resident of over 25 years, and one who uses the quaint little Atherton library regularly, I'd like to chime in here. The old notion of a community library as a "quiet place" is a laugh these days. It is now more about children's read-aloud storytimes and other loud recreational activities, non-residents using multiple computers provided at taxpayer expense and various non-study gatherings. It's anything but quiet and clearly the books are secondary. There is a strong desire by "those in charge" to grow the library and thus their self-importance. The earmarked funds are burning a hole in their pocket. We don't need a bigger library much less a "community center." The first posting in this discussion (above) poses many excellent questions and suggestions. If our current library needs retrofitting for some seismic standards, that should be done. But there should absolutely NOT be a new library (by that or any other name) built in the park. We don't need more library space, we need the peace and quiet of a true library for reading and study as it was originally designed. Period!

Posted by atherton voter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Qotee above "Anne-Marie Despain, the county's director of library services, stressed that national trends in library usage dictate that new facilities need more flexible space to adapt to a wider range of uses than traditional 20th century libraries had to accommodate. One modern-day need that libraries must accommodate, she said, is for public gathering spaces, which is required for a cohesive community but seems to be disappearing in modern times.

This is one reason, she noted, that libraries throughout the nation are getting larger: "People take up more space than a book shelf."

This is the most inane commenta I could imagine justifying Atherton residents put up a huge community center in an open space park. My goodness what baloney! As if Atherton residents going to use it for that reason. We live here behind walls and gates. I do not need to create a cohesive community from surrounding communities since Atherton is just fine and pretty darn cohesive right now eBNMatever that means.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Readinanwritin -

Nicely said.

You would hope that elected officials would heed the advice of a long time user of the library such as yourself.

Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Athertonians, be smart, forget about a library. First, libraries are on the road to digitialization. Secondly, why doesn't Atherton just piggyback on MP for a fee?

Posted by Jenny Redo
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Has this group gone into Selby Lane School's library in Atherton? While a beautiful location and building, their library needs everything but the bricks and mortar. They need librarians, books, reference materials etc. Why don't we spend the money there?

To Norman: There is no fee for Athertonians to use the MP library. In fact, half the time we go to the Atherton library (usually for a research project for my children), they send us to the MP library because they don't have the books we are looking for.

Posted by Former councilmember
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 6:50 am

I've been a Town resident since 1985. I use the Atherton Library, on average, 3-4 times a month; the Menlo Park library, about 1-2 times a month. I love libraries. I order virtually all my materials online, then stop by to pick them up, and see what new materials are available when I'm in the library.

My bias is towards including a public gathering place, but that's a highly individual opinion. Atherton is part of the larger community. We can build walls and gates, but we do have some obligation to make our space available to all residents, and maybe even to others (!),as part of the social contract -- don't we?

I suspect the 11K sq ft model is quite attractive, and I like new libraries. However, I'd want to see what they can do with an innovative renovation of the current library, perhaps expanding it slightly. New architecture would, I'm sure, improve its use possibilities. Look at the Redwood Shores library, for example -- very impressive. So, I'd lean away from putting a new place in the Park (I think the police/night use is a very good point on cost).

I'd also favor a survey, although I do understand the frustration of those who've been working on this for many months. I saw that syndrome in Council meetings, too!

Posted by Politics
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 8:39 am

Adding to what "Happy Atherton Library User" wrote. Mayor Dobbie's wife is a member of the Friends of the Library. If the Friends want to move ahead with the Park and not survey the town, how will the Mayor handle the agenda item and vote? Council Member McKeithen seems to have already taken a position of going ahead with the Park. Where do the other three votes rest?

Posted by atherton voter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 9:21 am

The following is the descriptive mission statement taken from the Town's website:
Atherton is located on the peninsula nestled between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Town begins in the flatlands then moves westward to the hills, until it reaches Highway 280. Beautiful foliage, elegant gardens and heritage trees dominate this quiet small community.

The Town of Atherton desires, insofar as possible, to preserve its character as a scenic, rural, thickly-wooded, residential area, with abundant open space with streets designed primarily as scenic routes rather than for speed of travel.

Apparently Mayor Dobbie and Kathy McKeithen and maybe other Council members have not read this recently as the concept of a 11,000 square foot community center building disguised as a "library" is totally at odds with this concept of Atherton. To promote the removal of open space and resulting increased car traffic as well as huge non-Atherton use totally violates the character of the Town as well as the intent of the donor of the land. They have lost their way.

Posted by Swing Vote
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 10:50 am

Vice-Mayor Widmer is probably the swing vote. This could test how independent he is from McKeithen and Dobbie.

Posted by Conflicts of interest anyone?
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

"Politics" makes an interesting point. Pat Dobbie, our mayor's lovely wife, has been an open, active participant and is a huge supporter of the Library committee. Jim is not going to be able to vote against her! Kathy McKeithen is the representative Council member on the Library Committee and is so invested in the idea of a Monumental Library in the park, she has twice ranted at community members expressing differing views at the Library Workshops. Both these council members have large personal stakes in the work of the Library Committee and so, whether or not they agree with Library recommendations as being in the best interest of the town, they have to vote yes for their personal reasons. As a result, they probably should recuse themselves from any vote the council makes on this matter, since they cannot in good conscious say they can be objective on the issue.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Conflicts states:"they probably should recuse themselves from any vote the council makes on this matter, since they cannot in good conscious say they can be objective on the issue. "

If you feel this way then you should appear before the council and ask these individuals to recuse themselves. Few people, especially the council, read this forum.

Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Re: Conflicts of interest anyone?
Has Atherton elected delegates (with personal bias & opinions) or representatives (reflecting the community majority)? Please don't confuse personal interest, experience, and opinion with conflict-of-interest that originates from other concerns, say financial or ethical intrests. I doubt we'd want to ask any and every government official to recuse themselves, simply because they (or their spouse) has interest in a topic.

As an aside - exactly what portion of Atheron expects that they can simply or easily rely on Redwood City or Menlo Park as an excuse to avoid building a library? or baseball field, lacrosse or other youth sports fields? The suggestion that Atheron negotiate fee-for-use might be a fair approach (but doesn't guarantee access).

Posted by Money = Might?
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm

The Library committee has accumulated over $5 million of our tax dollars—that they haven't needed and haven't seen fit to use for other allowed purposes like to help any of the other 8 school libraries we have in town, some of which seem in real need. Yet, with money to burn, committee members think they can select where they want to go and what they want to build. But really, does this money=might logic make sense for Atherton? I've heard that the Building Department has nearly $2 million accumulated to go towards their facility needs. Does this mean that they too can choose to move to the park, so they can add more community space and enjoy outdoor seating as well? Who decides this stuff? Where's the overall town plan?

I love our library and I definitely want to see our library well maintained but I am amazed that the Atherton library is SO rich and yet this same council has fired half the town staff insisting that Atherton is so poor. Does anyone know if, for example, the library pays the town any rent for their use of their current building, that was donated to the town? Maybe they should, if they don't, or get a rent increase, if they do!

The library, we've been told, has excess income from our taxes of $750,000 per year and has had this for years. Pardon me for bringing up old grudges but lots of energy and plenty of Atherton's town funds have been spent by our long-term, Lindenwood-affiliated council members fighting lawsuit over urns, the PAC, and school lights (among other frivolous things) but have they ever looked at what costs those library tax fees should be paying for in Atherton?

It concerns me that this council—with the apparent alignment of Dobbie and McKeithen with the Library committee and Friends of the Library—will not have what it takes to do what is in the best interests of the BROADER town, to determine if the town is getting what it might be entitled to claim as a fair-use rent from the Library funds? Is this a job for the Audit Committee (Dobbie will no doubt recuse himself)? Or is the political backlash from the Friends of the Library too powerful?

Posted by Traffic
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Wasn't one of the reasons the PAC and the football field lights lawsuits were filed was an increase in traffic? Why would Dobbie and McKeithen accept an increase in traffic with a regional library?

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm

What sort of traffic can be expected for a renovated or newly built library, at either location? Hasn't Atherton always been a regional library, in the manner that the rest of SM County libraries are regional?

Traffic-wise, are we talking high school football type traffic (phew! Be glad this isn't Texas!)? Blue Light Special at Kmart style traffic? Oprah's giving away free chicken at KFC traffic?

No offense - my husband & I are library frequenters, but traffic concerns here made us chuckle. And what's w/the attitude toward "outsiders"? You can get a library card even if you live in a different county. For us SM County residents not living in a tony 'hood, eg, "the unwashed masses", we will continue to frequent the Atherton library on the occasional occasion it actually has materials that we want. Yes, we will risk being pulled over by the esteemed APD for DULII (Driving Under Lower Income Influence), also known as DWP (Driving While Poor). We will risk it because we love libraries. As usually, the County will also appreciate our late fees. I've been paying them since my very first Menlo Park library card & now those late fees are more necessary than ever, it sounds. Does the Town of Atherton get any of the overdue fees? I am sure that they need my $$ nowadays, given how poor of a village it is...

Posted by Traffic
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm

TO: Hmmm,

From the Almanac Story,

"Although parking would be adequate, traffic flow would be affected on nearby streets, Ms. Costa Sanders said. "There would be an impact at (the intersection of) Watkins and Middlefield" that the town would have to mitigate,"

Perhaps someone from the Town can give the car count before expansion and after expansion? And details on the parking before expansion and after expansion. How do they know it will be adequate?

Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Traffic on nearby streets? Parking issues? Are you kidding?

Atherton has no traffic problems, and there will be future problems either. No hordes of people having the nerve to use the public streets to use the Public Library.

BTW...a lot of people, even computer users, like books.

Posted by Gary R. Evans
a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm

How about updating the current Police Department building. It hasn't been updated or restored since 1964. I was a Law Enforcement Officer and we (the officers painted the locker room and replaced worn our carpets, etc. not the city). I left in 1984 and the city promised to build a new building,where is it? GRE (Retired)

Posted by Community Center
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Doesn't Atherton already have a community center facility? What is the Main House and the Pavilion? Why tear one of the down to build a new community center?

I agree with Money = Might: Since the town needs money it should charge the library for the town land it wants to acquire for the expansion.

Posted by Brown Act
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 16, 2011 at 7:38 am

Doesn't the Brown Act require that Public Comments should have been heard at the recent meeting?

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2011 at 8:09 am

1) If a majority of the Town Council were present then the meeting was covered by the Brown Act and public comments should have been allowed.
If only one or two members of the five person council were present then the Brown Act would not have applied.

2) In addition the Task Force itself could, under certain circumstances, be subject to the Brown Act in which case public comment would have been required.

"Standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have either: (1) a
continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or (2) a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution,
or formal action of a legislative body. Even if comprised of less than a quorum of the governing body,
a standing committee is subject to the Brown Act. For example, if a governing body creates long-term
committees on budget and finance or on public safety, those are standing committees subject to the
Brown Act"

Posted by Brown Act
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:18 am

Looks like the Brown Act was not followed. The Task Force Committee should have taken Public Comments.

Posted by Econ 101
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Have rentals been cancelled in the Park? What did it rent for?? Was it about $3,500.00 for a wedding? How does the town make up the lost revenue?

Posted by park user
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Yes, I tried to reserve the Pavilion and was told that the Town staff was instructed not to take any more rentals for weddings so that the library could be built. I was told by Melanie, before she was fired, that the order came from Mayor Dobbie.

Posted by atherton voter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 18, 2011 at 8:14 am

If this is true and Mayor Dobbie has made this decision and cut off a town revenue stream in anticipation of tearing down buildings he really should be called to task. That is just plain wrong. The Council has poured money into the pavilion, main house and grounds over the last several years to develop a facility that will pay for itself with rentals as well as provide a meeting place for Atherton residents. In addition, they have used monies illegally taken from the special parcel tax to develop and maintain the Park infrastructure. That money should have been spent on the police department and road safety improvements. Now it appears those expenditures are for nothing and the Mayor is fully invested in building a Community Center for the library system which will mostly benefit non-Atherton residents and bring on a host of other problems. How much more of these bad decisions will Atherton residents tolerate?

Posted by atherton voter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 17, 2011 at 5:52 am

It would appear from the Town's agenda posting that the library in the Park issue has hit a few speed bumps. First, the Council is considering resuming rentals at the Park facilities through 2012 indicating they need the money and that the project will not start soon. The Library Site Selection Committee has recommended in a just published report that the Town Council proceed with the Park Library site. No surprise here since the committee is packed with appointees who are not independent but picked for their pro-Park library stance. However they have been seriously delayed because the Town Attorney has ruled a full is EIR is required under CEQA because their is considerable "public controversy". The Committee did not like this and has asked for outside legal opinion. Basically the project is off the table while EIR is done.
On another front a large group of Atherton residents (over 200) has petitioned the Town to commission a study of creating a master plan for the new Town Center area which would include a library site in the complex. The petition to add discussion was denied by Mayor Dobbie and discussion will not take place at this Wednesdays meeting. However, this group will submit a new petition to require the Council call a Special Meeting on this subject.

It would appear that there is significant opposition to the Library in the Park proposal and maybe the group within the Council will realize that they cannot railroad this through.

Posted by Transparency
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

From the Almanac Story: Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, who served on the library task force, forcefully debated several residents who challenged her defense of the park as the optimal library site. As Ms. McKeithen urged the residents to better inform themselves about the proposed project, former mayor Dudley, just a few feet away, spoke passionately with several residents about the need to preserve the Main House.

Why don't Mayor Dobbie and council member McKeithen want to inform the residents why green space should be used to build the ninth library in Atherton? Put the library on the agenda as an open topic so residents can express their opinion and ask any question they want over what the council is doing regarding this matter. Be Transparent!! What reason did Mayor Dobbie have to deny a request by 150 residents to seek direction on perhaps the biggest decision the council will make in last decade.

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