What were three Berkeley City Council members, the City of Berkeley Director of Library Services, two trustees of the Board of Library Trustees, and leaders of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation doing hurrying around to various locations in West Berkeley in the pouring rain Tuesday evening?
Having a “private meeting” about the Library, according to City Councilmember Darryl Moore who said he had convened the group and that it was a mistake an e-mail notice had gone out inviting the public to attend.
The group first convened at the public, City of Berkeley owned, Frances Albrier Community Center in San Pablo Park.
Then, when some members of the public arrived to attend in response to the e-mail invitation, they were blocked by Moore from approaching the meeting room. Not long thereafter the core group of those admitted by Moore scattered, apparently reconvening at the home of a Councilmember in northwest Berkeley.
I had planned to attend the “public” meeting, which had been widely publicized in e-mails sent out by some City Council offices. (Attached is a copy of the e-mail which I received. My copy had been forwarded by Councilmember Gordon Woziak).
The announcement read, “MEETING: Community Engagement around Library Lawsuit. Tuesday, March 15th from 6 PM to 7:30 PM. Frances Albrier Auditorium, San Pablo Park. Sponsored by COUNCILMEMBERS MAX ANDERSON AND DARRYL MOORE. PLEASE PASS THIS INFORMATION ALONG!” (Emphasis in original).
The e-mail was signed with the contact information of Charlene Washington, Legislative Aide to Councilmember Anderson.
When I arrived for the meeting, however, Councilmember Darryl Moore was standing athwart the courtyard doorway of the Community Center like a latter day Horatius at the Bridge, allowing some to pass and telling others they couldn’t enter.
A man whom I took to be Ryan Lau, Moore’s City Council aide, also hovered anxiously around the entrance.
It was a “private meeting”, Moore said. The notice sent out had been in error. He told me by name that I was not permitted to enter.
“Max (Anderson) and Gordon (Wozniak) sent out an announcement to the world. This is my personal meeting”, Moore said. “Max and Gordon know what they did and they’re sorry.”
Someone familiar with the scheduling of the Community Center told me a “Ryan” had reserved the room. There’s a charge of $65 an hour, two-hour minimum, for use. I did not find out who paid for the reservation.
As Moore waited in the lobby I asked him if he had seen the designs, prepared by architect Todd Jersey on behalf of Concerned Library Users, proposing an alternative strategy for renovated parts of the South and West branches and constructing additions.
“I haven’t seen them” Moore replied.
He then added, “I have the impression they’re the exact plans the Board (of Library Trustees) has seen before when we made a decision on the alterations.”
(Moore was presumably referring to designs prepared by the Library’s own consultants in 2009 and 2010 looking at a renovation scheme for both branches. They are entirely separate plans, and considerably different designs, from the Todd Jersey plans.
Concerned Library Users is suing the City over the proposed demolition of the South and West branch library buildings, and presented the Jersey plans as an alternative approach to renovating and expanding the two structures. Councilmembers participated in a closed meeting with the City Attorney on Monday afternoon to discuss the CLU litigation, among other legal matters).
Winston Burton, an appointed member of the Board of Library Trustees arrived. I asked him if he had seen the plans? No, he said, he hadn’t seen the Jersey designs.
I then asked Judith Epstein of the Concerned Library Users group to clarify the status of the plans. She was waiting in the lobby, having been told by Moore she could not enter the meeting.
Epstein said the Jersey designs had been submitted to the City as part of the branch library EIR process, and were a matter of public record since the end of January.
As Moore waited for more attendees, I asked him if he had invited the entire Board of Library Trustees, or just Burton? Moore serves on the BOLT, with Burton.
“No”, he said. “This meeting is not a Brown Act violation,” he added. (The Brown Act prohibits non-public meetings at which a majority of the members of a government body, such as the City Council, are present.)
I started to ask him another question about the Library lawsuit.
“I’m not speaking to you, you’re the opposition”, he said.
I said that was there to do an article for the Daily Planet on the meeting.
“I’m not speaking to the press then. It would be lies”, he replied, and turned away.
Councilmember Linda Maio then appeared. I asked her what she was arriving to attend.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a private meeting”, she answered, and went on to the meeting room after conferring privately with Moore.
Rain pounded down in the courtyard of the Community Center. The lighted meeting room was on the other side.
A resident of Otis Street, who lives around the corner from the South Branch Library, arrived and was bemused when Moore blocked her way and told her she couldn’t attend the meeting. She told me she had come in response to the e-mail from Anderson’s office, and had thought it was a public meeting.
In the lobby of the building as the invited and uninvited milled about, Linda Schacht Gage, the leading fundraiser for the non-profit Berkeley Public Library Foundation arrived and had a brief, tense, encounter with Judith Epstein.
Epstein was passing out a flyer entitled “What You Need To Know About The Branch Library Projects and the Library Lawsuit.”
Schacht Gage went on into the meeting room. A number of others arrived, or were visible in the room across the courtyard. Among them were Dave Snyder, the Executive Director of Berkeley Public Library Foundation, and Elizabeth Watson, the Foundation Vice President.
Watson had introduced Schacht Gage the evening before when she had received an Outstanding Woman of Berkeley award for 2011.
Councilmember Max Anderson arrived, conferred with his aide Charlene Washington outside, and then hurried through the lobby to consult with Moore in the courtyard. Washington stood in the lobby, silent and looking exasperated.
Eventually all of the attendees entered the meeting room. They appeared to talk briefly, and then all got up and left, passing again through the courtyard and lobby, where the excluded individuals were still standing.
As they went by through the lobby, I asked Moore if the meeting was cancelled, or reconvening elsewhere. He said nothing. Anderson and Maio came by, and I asked the same question.
”No meeting,” said Maio, without stopping.
Donna Corbeil, Berkeley’s Director of Library Services, hurried by from the meeting room, looking tense and tired, under a pale green umbrella.
The attendees scattered to their cars, parked in front of the Community Center. They quickly drove off in different directions, but in about 15 minutes several of them re-gathered at a private home at 1732 Berkeley Way.
The three-story brown shingle house had a prominent “Linda Maio for Council” sign displayed on the façade. It’s the building Maio identified as her residence in her campaign filings for re-election last November.
I watched from the public street as Corbeil, Moore, Schacht Gage, and several others from the aborted Community Center gathering, parked and walked through the downpour into the house.
The front room was lit and uncurtained, and from across the street the attendees could be seen there, conversing.
Presumably, though, it was just a social gathering where they all happened to end up. No meeting at all. So I went home.
(Disclosure. The author has written commentary here in the Planet about the Library branch plans, detailing concerns about possible misuse of Measure FF money. He’s not a party to the lawsuit against the City, or a member of Concerned Library Users or the Library Users Association, the two organized groups that have been most critical of the Berkeley Public Library.)