RE: South and West Berkeley Branch Libraries and Zoning Ordinance amendment to allow development flexibility for existing public libraries.
Editor's Note: This letter was addressed to the Berkeley Planning Commission and copied to the Daily Planet.
As a long-time resident of South Berkeley, a former member of the Berkeley City Council and Vice Mayor, parent and grandparent, I ask that you support approval of the proposed zoning ordinance amendment. I also want to take this opportunity to express my strong support for the Berkeley Library plans for all four branch libraries. I strongly support the demolition and renovation plans for South and West Branch libraries.
As you are aware the Berkeley voters overwhelming approved the Measure FF directing the City of Berkeley to issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $26 million dollars to renovate, expand, and improve four (4) neighborhood branch libraries, but not the central library. When these libraries are renovated and rebuilt, they will be brought up to code standards and fully be able to provide services to Berkeley's diverse population.
In order to follow through on the voter's mandate and complete the branch library projects as scheduled, the library zoning ordinance amendment is vital. I ask that the planning commission adopt the proposed zoning ordinance amendment as written.
Plans are in place to remodel two branch libraries (Claremont and North) and build new libraries in South and West Berkeley. South and West Berkeley comprise a significant percentage of the City's population of color. The proportion of families with incomes below the poverty level is highest in South and West Berkeley. Poverty has a direct relationship to life's inequities such as disease, educational attainment, and life expectancy, etc. At every poverty level, African Americans have higher death rates than all other race/ethnic groups. Race and ethnicity are major determinate s of every indicator of socioeconomic position. African Americans are disadvantaged in terms of education, but even given the same education, have lower incomes than Whites.
Access to modern, safe, well equipped and staffed local/branch libraries are important to ALL residents of Berkeley and critical to overcoming the inequities most prominent in South and West Berkeley communities. South and West Berkeley communities deserve the same beautiful, modern, safe and accessible branch libraries as other parts of the City. At one time in our country's history, U.S. Citizens lived under the legal doctrine of “Separate but Equal” until the 1954 Supreme Court case of Brown vs Board of Education. I would hope no one wants to go back to those days—even unintentionally.
But it appears that just might happen. Unfortunately a group calling itself Concerned Library Users has filed a lawsuit to stop the South and West Berkeley projects. The plaintiffs reportedly secured their own architect and developed their own plans for South and West Berkeley to “preserve” the buildings; not to build new ones. The plaintiffs bypassed a transparent community decision-making process. Residents of South and West Berkeley participated in the transparent process resulting in a consensus plan to demolish and rebuild South and West branch libraries. Neither is a landmarked building; nor are the buildings able to adequately meet the needs of library users now or in the future. The buildings are not seismically safe nor accessible to the disabled.
If the lawsuit delays the current plans for South and West Berkeley Branch libraries, it could mean that Claremont and North Branch Libraries are renovated and South and West Berkeley's are NOT.
In current and future deliberations, I ask the Planning Commission to honor the transparent decision making process and support the residents of South and West Berkeley who, along with their fellow citizens from all parts of the City, have determined that demolition and rebuilding is the right way to go for the branch libraries in South and West Berkeley.
Berkeley's guiding principle is “community engagement”. We believe that residents know their needs and communities best, and that we cannot create a healthy, vibrant city without engaging in true community partnerships, cooperation and collaboration. We build on community assets and strengthen community capacity. I am proud of Berkeley and I know we will work together to ensure the best for our community.
Honorable Carole Davis Kennerly is a former Berkeley City Council member and a former Vice Mayor.