Public Comment

The Hidden Costs of Library Demolitions

By Lori Kossowsky
Wednesday March 09, 2011 - 11:12:00 AM

As a disabled person and a South Berkeley resident, I wouldn’t have voted for Measure FF if it had said that my branch library would be demolished. Did I miss something in the fine print? 

I thought that Dr. Judith Epstein’s commentary about the libraries was excellent. She explained that, once the City changed plans and decided to demolish the South and West Branch Libraries, Measure FF bond funds would no longer be able to cover all of the projects’ expenses. The City Attorney said that Measure FF funds could not be used for the demolitions, and according to the Director of Library Services, the General Fund would pay for the demolitions. Some much-needed programs will probably face significant cuts in order to pay for the South and West Branch Library demolitions. 

I really appreciate the work that Concerned Library Users (CLU) has done, especially in the light of the defamation campaign waged against them in an effort to get them to drop their lawsuit. Since I have met many CLU members, I want to ask you to please not to drop your lawsuit no matter how hard it may get, because a lot of people, including myself, are counting on you to do the right thing. 

Like most disabled people (and on a fixed income), I depend on city services that are always in danger of being cut when money is short. Each year, almost all of the City’s General Fund is committed to staff pensions and salaries before it even reaches the City Council’s budget process. The people who truly need City services fight for a tiny portion of funds that are open to discretion. The process of dividing this small pot of money between many deserving constituencies is often capricious and politically motivated. 

For example, last summer, there wasn’t enough money in the General Fund to keep Willard Pool open for a mere three months after Measure C failed. Council members Worthington and Wozniak presented a plan to delay re-paving two District 7 and 8 streets to keep Willard Pool open for the summer, but the motion failed. Disabled people have a variety of needs, and some disabled people, such as those with Multiple Sclerosis, needed the Willard Pool, because it was local and the warm pool was too hot for them. When the Willard Pool was closed, it left South Berkeley without any public recreation facilities. 

In voting against the motion, Mayor Bates and Council member Capitelli discussed the importance of maintaining the street-paving schedule. One Council member said that there wasn’t enough money to extend hours for the Women’s Drop-In Center, so she reasoned that she couldn’t vote to keep Willard Pool open. Council Member Anderson responded that just because one program couldn’t be saved, it didn’t mean that no programs should be saved. In the months after Willard Pool closed, there was considerable discussion about whether the pool closure was politically motivated in order to deny Council member Worthington a public victory in the months leading up to the election. 

We can expect much the same kind of behavior when the Council considers the City’s next budget, which will have an added expense due to the demolitions of the South and West Branch Libraries. Because the City has decided to violate Measure FF, these costs will have to come out of the General Fund. Tax revenues are down, and we know that pensions and salaries won’t be cut, so who will pay the price for the demolitions? Only the most needy.