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Peralta Mulls Plan for Joint Use of Kaiser Center By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday July 29, 2005

A Peralta College proposal for joint use with the Oakland Library of the soon-to-be-closed Oakland Kaiser Convention Center left some Peralta trustees and staff members angry and some encouraged at last Tuesday’s trustee meeting. 

The proposal was part of an interim report presented by principal Atheria Smith of Oakland-based Scala Design & Development Company, who was hired under a six-month consultant contract by the district last January to produce a district-wide land-use development report. 

Chancellor Elihu Harris had requested the interim report for the last trustee meeting before the month-long summer break so that trustees would be brought up to date on the progress of the project. 

Last month, citing budget concerns, Oakland City Council voted to close the 90-year-old city-owned convention center as of Jan. 1. The Kaiser Center, which includes a theater and an arena, is located nearly adjacent to the Laney College campus, on the Lake Merritt Channel that connects Lake Merritt with the estuary. The Lake Merritt Channel is scheduled for a makeover within the next few years with funds from Oakland’s Bond Measure DD. 

During debate over the convention center closure when it came before Oakland City Council last month, Councilmember Pat Kernighan said she would explore keeping the Kaiser Center open, but under private management. 

But Gerry Garzon, Administrative Librarian with the Oakland Public Library, told Peralta trustees Tuesday night that his agency is looking at the Kaiser Convention Center as a possible site for a new main library, and is interested in partnering with Laney College to use a portion of the space for the Laney College Library, as well as with the Oakland Museum for the use of some of the space as a cultural center. 

Garzon said that because a bond measure might have to be put on the ballot in 2006 to finance that plan, the planning process for such a proposal needed to be put through in the next six to eight months. 

Following the trustee meeting, Smith said that if such a partnership took place, it might involve the joint library use of the convention center’s arena, while retaining the theater as a performance space. 

The proposal was presented to Peralta trustees for information purposes only, and the board took no action. 

The plan drew praise from some trustees, including Marcie Hodge, who said that she was excited by the prospect of possible joint-use agreements with other government entities. Trustee Linda Handy agreed, adding that such agreements were important “because we’re all pulling from the same tax base.” 

But trustee Cy Gulassa poured cold water on the idea, at least for the time being, saying that he assumed that Smith’s proposals were “simply a dream plan,” and that district faculty and staff “want to be involved before any such plans are finalized. We should all remember that this always comes up whenever the land use issue comes before the board of trustees.” 

Gulassa added that “the presentation of a relatively finalized plan is a surprise; I thought this was just an update.” 

The proposal also was blasted by some Laney College staff. Shirley Coaston, Laney College Head Librarian, complained that she had not been invited to any of the meetings concerning the possible Kaiser joint library venture. 

Coaston said that while she wasn’t “totally against” the proposal, she said, “I don’t think that what happens at Laney College should be forced to go through a six- to eight-month process just because the Oakland library needs a partner.” 

She added that “Laney College isn’t a public library. We have a different mission and a different focus. So we would like to be part of any planning that takes place.” 

Laney College Faculty Senate President Evelyn Lord, who is also a Laney librarian, added that she had “not been consulted as to what’s going on with the library proposal.” 

Chancellor Harris said “there was no intent to exclude” anyone and that the Scala proposals were not final. 

Presentation of the proposal “was just for the purpose of initiating conversation,” he said. “We haven’t initiated plans with the City of Oakland or with anybody else. But we talk to people. That’s what we’re supposed to do. Nothing here is in concrete. Nothing here is specific. You need to put the hostility and the caution away.” 

Smith said following the meeting that she intended to hold meetings with staff throughout the district over possible land use proposals.