The City of Berkeley has purchased and registered with the State, at a cost of nearly $88,000, a bookmobile to bring limited Berkeley Public Library services to Berkeley neighborhoods when their branch libraries are closed down for renovation or demolition, starting this year.
To buy and register the temporary-use van the City dipped into bond money Berkeley voters approved for the permanent physical renovation of the branches.
The City Council gave approval for the purchase in July 2010. The vehicle, which the Library calls the “BranchVan”, was apparently paid for last December, and recently stored on Bancroft Way behind the Central Branch library in a special curbside parking zone designated by the City at the same time the Council approved buying the van.
It’s expected to begin operation when the North and Claremont Branch libraries are closed later this spring. The Library bills the van as part of the branch renovation program; the vehicle is prominently painted with the slogan “Berkeley Public Library: Branch Improvement Program.”
Funds from Measure FF, the 2008 Bond measure to finance renovation and expansion of Berkeley’s four branch libraries, were used to buy the van, according to a City Council item from July 2010.
Measure FF, as presented to Berkeley voters, authorized $26 million in bonds to “renovate, expand and make seismic and access improvements at the four neighborhood branch libraries.” Berkeley voters approved it in November 2008.
The ballot Measure and City Attorney analysis of it made no mention of using funds from the bond to buy a bookvan or bookmobile for the library system or cover other expenses connected to ongoing branch operations but not directly related to the renovation, expansion, or making of seismic and access improvements to the branches.
The branch library plan is currently embroiled in community controversy—and a citizen lawsuit—over the decision of the City to demolish and rebuild, rather than “renovate and expand” the South and West branch libraries.
(Disclosure: this writer is of the opinion that Measure FF did not allow for funds to be spent on branch demolition, and has written about that issue in previous Planets).
In June, 2010, Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil told the Board of Library Trustees “Measure FF funds can be used to purchase the vehicle with the caveat it will be used to continue providing library services when a branch is closed.”
The next month the Library told the City Council in writing that the proposed purchase of the van using Measure FF funds was "best aligned with the use restrictions imposed on funds sourced through general obligation bonds."
“Funding for a vehicle purchase is sourced from the 2.4% (or $623,683) share of Measure FF bond proceeds currently allocated to the overall program contingency,”City staff told the Council in the approval item.
The City Council accepted the recommendation. City staff did also tell the Council at the time that the book van was desirable, but not essential to, the renovation of the branch libraries.
"The successful completion of the Branch Libraries Improvement Program does not require that alternative services be offered; however, a strong preference for continued services in the neighborhoods affected by a closure has been expressed in all four branch communities.” (emphasis added)
When I asked Corbeil, via an e-mail exchange at the end of last week, to clarify whether the City Attorney had given her an opinion on the legality of using Measure FF funds to buy the bookvan, she refused to answer.
“Communications with the City Attorney’s Office are exempt from disclosure under Government Code Section 6254 (k) as they are confidential under the attorney / client communication privilege, and thus will not be disclosed”, she wrote back to me.
Corbeil also refused to provide information on whether the operating costs of the book van as well as the purchase cost would come out of Measure FF funds.
The Library projected, in 2010, that in addition to the purchase cost—then anticipated at $83,000, slightly more than was ultimately spent on buying the van—it would spend another $37,000 on "maintenance, fuel, on-going registration and related costs for the bookvan over the course of the branch library construction program. " I asked Corbeil if she could tell me how long the Library expected to have the BranchVan in operation?
“The Library could find no document that contains information responsive to this question”, she answered.
(In further research, I found this statement by Library staff from the notes describing a March 31, 2010 Community Meeting held at the Claremont Branch Library.
(Question) “Will there be a temporary site during the closure?” (Answer) “The plan is to close two branches at a time and Claremont and North will be closed first. We would like patrons to visit the other branches that will be open, including the Central Library. South Branch is the closest branch to Claremont. The Board of Library Trustees is discussing the option of a book van to deliver holds and pick up materials in the neighborhoods of the closed branches.”
While the Claremont and North library closures and renovations will begin this year, there appears to be no exact projection for the dates of the South and West branch renovations, aside from a six-month Environmental Impact Report process that is currently underway. In a staff report to the Library Board of Trustees this month Corbeil stated, “the West Branch and South Branch projects are on hold pending completion of the EIR process.”
The staff report to the City Council from July 2010 also notes that the Library had explored purchasing a used bookmobile from other libraries but “the vehicles offered in every case were out of warranty due to the vehicle being older than ten years or over mileage targets.”
This would imply that a bookmobile can be regarded as outworn or obsolete after ten years, which would be long before Berkeley voters finish paying off the purchase cost and interest assigned to the Measure FF bonds.)
Corbeil also refused to provide information on the possibility of Berkeley Public Library use of the BranchVan after the branch library program is completed.
“There are no documents responsive to this request”, Corbeil told me.
Would the Library discontinue and/or sell the BranchVan if it isn’t going to be used after the branches reopen, I asked Corbeil?
“There are no documents responsive to this request”, she again replied.
(In later research, however, I found a reference in the May 2010, Board of Library Trustee minutes that “There is a possibility of selling bookmobile after branch improvement project is completed.”)
Some cost details of the purchase were among the few fragments of information provided by Corbeil in response to my interview questions. She forwarded me two document pdfs, one a purchase invoice from the vendor and the other registration information and a tally of the costs to register the “BranchVan” as a motor vehicle with the State of California.
The BranchVan is a 2010 model Mercedes-Benz CargoVan 3500, also known as an “Explorer / Sprinter Van”, purchased from “OBS Inc” of Canton, Ohio.
According to their website, “OBS INC. is a leading supplier of Blue Bird school buses and a custom designer and builder of high quality specialty vehicles for customers nationwide. Our bookmobiles, mobile command centers, mobile classrooms, mobile methadone clinics, and more generally, our mobile medical units are used in a variety of challenging environments and are built to stand the rigors of daily use.”
The “Explorer / Sprinter Van” is one of seven bookmobile models offered by the company, and is described on their website as having a capacity of up to 1,500 books.
The OBS salesperson was Barbara Ferne. According to an invoice from OBS, the City approved payment on December 7, 2010, and the company apparently received the money on December 14, 2010. The van was registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles the next day.
Registration with the State of California cost $8,689, according to the “Vehicle Registration Fee Calculator” summary Corbeil sent me. Expenses included $910 for the basic vehicle registration payment--$966 total, for all registration costs--and $7,712 for sales tax.
I also asked Director Corbeil about the expected cost of operating the BranchVan. How much does the Library expect to pay to keep the vehicle in operation, and staff it, I asked?
Instead of answering directly, she suggested I look at the City’s web page and the City Council agenda for July 13, 2009, and at two on-line .pdfs from the Board of Library Trustees, comprising hundreds of pages of miscellaneous reports and other materials on a variety of Library business operations.
“Board of Library agendas, minutes, and recordings can be found online at (the city’s website)” Corbeil added. She gave me the City Council’s website address as a starting point.
The July 13, 2010 City Council item contains this statement:
“In addition to the vehicle purchase cost of a bookvan, added costs will include sales tax and use fees, vehicle registration and license fees, as well as other expenses for maintenance servicing and fuel, and miscellaneous fees assessed either by the City, county, or state. At present full costs including vehicle purchase is estimated at $120,000 over the life of the Branch Libraries Improvement Program.”
Since the BranchVan cost $79,100, and the registration costs and sales tax bring the disclosed costs to date to $87,779, that leaves $32,211 of the $120,000, by the Library’s estimate, for “expenses for maintenance servicing and fuel”, spread “over the life of the Branch Libraries Improvement Program”.
I also asked Corbeil if the Library expected to use any Measure FF Bond funds to pay for any of the operating costs?
She declined to say, referring me instead to the same broad sets of Council and Library minutes. I could not find in any of the on-line City Council or Board of Library Trustees documents information shedding light on this question other than the statement in the July, 2010 City Council item that “Vehicle staffing is expected to be primarily sourced from the pool of branch staff affected by the then closed facilities.”
The “BranchVan” appears to have been acquired without a formal public announcement, to date, other than the mentions in City Council and Library Trustee minutes and reports.
Although Director Corbeil told the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) on January 12, 2011 that “staff continues to update the Library website with FAQs, announcements of meetings etc. as needed”, I have not found any press release from the Library describing the arrival of the BranchVan or its uses.
Corbeil did add in that report to BOLT, “The Branch Van has been received and ‘wrapped’ with colorful graphics in anticipation of usage. The staff will identify opportunities to promote the service in advance of the closures so that the public is well aware of the temporary service.”
When I reviewed it on January 18, 2011, the “Branch Construction Page” on the Library website did not contain any visible announcement of the van acquisition or the use of Measure FF funds to provide it.
However, a January 13, 2011 posting by Frances Dinkelspiel on the Berkeleyside
blog website characterizes the van, without attributing a City source, as “Berkeley’s newest ‘branch’ library.”
“Take a look at the new mobile branch library, known in another era as a bookmobile. Now it’s called a BranchVan. It’s idle now, but starting in the spring it will be shifting back and forth to the neighborhoods around the Claremont and North branches. Library patrons will be able to go online, put books on hold, and visit the van to pick them up; return books, and take out books displayed in the van.”
EXCERPTS FROM CITY DOCUMENTS RELATED TO THE BRANCHVAN PURCHASE
The purchase of a Bookvan by the City was discussed in at least three Board of Library Trustees meetings in spring, 2010. The relevant excerpts from the minutes are below.
In April 2010, the Library Director reported to the Board of Library Trustees:
“As we get closer to entering the construction phase of the Branch Library Improvement Program the Library is continuing its investigation of the logistics involved in providing limited mobile library services in the immediate neighborhoods affected by closure. A request to open an RFP has been made with the City’s Purchasing Department tentatively scheduled to run from May 20 through May 27. Likewise, on behalf of the Library, Purchasing posted a list serve notice announcing the Library’s interest to consider procurement of a used bookmobile. Staff expects to conclude its research in time to present its findings and a recommendation to the board at the June 9th regular meeting. Following board approval, a recommendation to purchase will be included on the City Council consent calendar.”
The following month, May 2010, however, the BOLT minutes report a change in plans.
“Discussion regarding bookmobile. Director Corbeil responded to trustee questions and comments: Firms usually don’t lease bookmobiles. Bookmobiles are generally custom‐made to fulfill a specific library’s needs. The library has explored other options, including lease. Many libraries buy very large RV style bookmobiles, we don’t think they would work well in Berkeley. There is a possibility of selling bookmobile after branch improvement project is completed. Trustees expressed a strong interest in purchasing a vehicle. There was a discussion of the type of fuel options, diesel is the norm, but will explore if can convert it to bio‐diesel after purchase. This item will be added to a future agenda.”
The next month, June 2010, BOLT approved asking the City Council to spend up to $83,200 to buy a new bookvan.
“The Board discussed the van presented to provide mobile library services during branch closures for construction. Staff responded to questions regarding the vehicle, it will be ADA accessible, have flexibility with moveable carts to take services inside partner organizations, and due to the size it will not require a special State of CA license to operate. Director Corbeil reported that Measure FF funds can be used to purchase the vehicle with the caveat it will be used to continue providing library services when a branch is closed. (emphasis added) Following approval by the board, staff will bring to City Council, following their approval a purchase order will be issued and the custom vehicle will be ordered. Preliminary schedule is for late fall delivery. Staff will explore local vendors for the personalized graphics/wrap, security system and bio-diesel options. Price does not include licensing and taxes.”
City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil then conveyed the request to the City Council in a July 13, 2010, Consent Calendar item, excerpted below (emphasis added to document).
Adopt a Resolution to authorize the City Manager to execute a purchase order with OBS Inc. of Canton, Ohio for the acquisition of a van configured for the provision of mobile library services during the closure periods of the four branch libraries while undergoing construction related to the Measure FF funded Branch Libraries Improvement Program in an amount not to exceed $83,200 and to redesignate a 25’-0” yellow-curbed parking zone on Bancroft Way to a grey-curbed zone for exclusive Library-use only parking.
A purchase order will be executed by the City Manager for the not-to-exceed purchase price of $83,200, excluding sales taxes and user fees, vehicle registration and license fees, and miscellaneous fees assessed either by the City, county, or state.
Funding for this purchase is available through Measure FF Fund (308) in budget code 308-9301-450.70-42, 10LB28.
In November 2008, voters approved the sale of $26M in bonds to renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements at the four neighborhood branch libraries. As the four branch improvement projects advance; and with the start of construction tentatively projected for March 2011 for the North and Claremont branches, the Board of Library Trustees requested that the Library explore cost effective alternative service models for the impacted neighborhoods. This request was made in recognition by the board of the concerns of many citizens who are unable or unwilling to go to the Central Library or other branches when their branch is closed. Among the options the Library considered were city-wide mailbox-style book drops and book vending machines, temporary satellite locations in partnership with a hosting organization, providing paid or downtown parking, and procurement of a vehicle to provide mobile services. At the conclusion of researching the options, the Library determined that mobile services presented the most viable, cost effective, flexible means for providing library services throughout the life of the improvement program and was best aligned with the use restrictions imposed on funds sourced through general obligation bonds.
Determinants favoring mobile services included the ability to locate services where and when demand exists, to size the selected vehicle to Library needs and budgetary constraints, to configure the vehicle interior to service reserved/hold items and to provide a small browsing collection on roll-on/roll-off carts. Additionally, a book vehicle may serve as an important outreach tool to enhance the visibility of the Library’s civic presence and its offered services throughout the City. Drawbacks are the ongoing operational maintenance and fuel expenses, cargo carrying capacity limits, overnight and weekend parking (addressed in this report), and general on-road risks.
CURRENT SITUATION AND ITS EFFECTS
The City’s Purchasing Department released Request for Proposals (RFP) specification number 10-10522 on May 21, 2010 for a “Library Bookmobile.” The RFP closed on June 3, 2010 upon which shortly thereafter a staff panel convened to evaluate the two received proposals based on the Library’s needs and budgetary limitations.
Prior to the release of the RFP, staff in its overall exploration of alternative service options did contact several library systems that utilize bookmobiles to investigate the logistics involved in procuring a vehicle, the operational and service issues related to various vehicle types, interior configurations, technical features, vehicle servicing costs, and costs associated with CA emissions compliance. From the responses received, it was decided to focus on a van as the more suitable vehicle type for reasons of costs and functionality rather than that of an RV or bus type bookmobile. For this reason the issued RFP was structured towards a bookvan. More specifically, in the context of mobile services it was determined that a bookvan addresses concerns related to vehicle size, neighborhood accessibility and parking flexibility; thus, offering enhanced flexibility to schedule multiple points of service in any single neighborhood whether it be at parks, shopping areas, or street corners – in each case, given adequate safety clearances. Vehicle staffing is expected to be primarily sourced from the pool of branch staff affected by the then closed facilities.
In summary, selecting a bookvan is believed to provide greater neighborhood penetration; and, available staffing (with site scheduling to-be-determined) will allow the Library to more comprehensively satisfy patron demands during the closure phase of the Branch Library Improvement Program life…
RATIONALE FOR RECOMMENDATION
Funding for a vehicle purchase is sourced from the 2.4% (or $623,683) share of Measure FF bond proceeds currently allocated to the overall program contingency.
Based on an evaluation of proposals, staff recommends OBS Inc. The OBS Inc. proposal at $83,200 represents an all-in vehicle price of a current year Explorer I
Sprinter inclusive of a step-up in gross vehicle weight rate (GVWR) to 11,030, full vehicle graphics, use instructions and training, as well as specified equipment such as walls, floor, shelving, desk, swivel seats, bookcarts, and ramp.
In addition to the vehicle purchase cost of a bookvan, added costs will include sales tax and use fees, vehicle registration and license fees, as well as other expenses for maintenance servicing and fuel, and miscellaneous fees assessed either by the City, county, or state. At present full costs including vehicle purchase is estimated at $120,000 over the life of the Branch Libraries Improvement Program. Lease options were not offered in either of the two received RFP proposals due to the manufacturer’s offer of the bookvans as custom-built vehicles. Staff did contact other libraries who were interested in leasing their bookmobile; however, the vehicles offered in every case were out of warranty due to the vehicle being older than ten years or over mileage targets. Additionally, the offered vehicles were not of the bookvan type judged as more appropriate to the needs of the Library.
In regards to vehicle parking, the Library requests that the current yellow-curb zone on Bancroft Way and immediately to the south of the Library’s Bancroft wing be redesignated to exclusive Library-use for bookvan dedicated parking. An evaluation conducted by the Transportation Division of Public Works concluded that doing so would have minimal impacts to the surrounding residential parking and commercial activity. This conversion would allow the Library immediate and certain access to the vehicle during operating hours for materials loading and unloading and eliminate added labor expenses for employee travel time to and from the City’s corporation yard.
ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS CONSIDERED
Among the alternatives the Library explored was the option not to purchase a service vehicle. In such a situation, the Library would not provide limited in-community services for the distribution of library materials to patrons affected by a project closure. Impacted patrons would have the options of going to the Central Library or any of the other open branches. The successful completion of the Branch Libraries Improvement Program does not require that alternative services be offered; however, a strong preference for continued services in the neighborhoods affected by a closure has been expressed in all four branch communities.”