Library Wins Zoning and Landmark Commission Approval for Tear-Down Plans; Lawsuit over Branch Demolition Remains (Partisan Position)

By Steven Finacom
Thursday April 21, 2011 - 12:12:00 PM

[Editor's Note: The Partisan Position designation is used for factual reports of meetings or events written by people who have taken public positions on the issues in question, and who identify their interest.]

Supporters of current Berkeley Public Library plans to tear down and rebuild the South and West Berkeley branch libraries won affirmative votes from both the Zoning Adjustments Board and Landmarks Preservation Commission at a complex joint meeting held on Thursday, April 14, 2011.

The demolition of the branches is contested by both a lawsuit and by some members of the public who argue that restoring the original portions of the two branch libraries and building additions would be a better solution.

The Library was seeking—and achieved at this meeting—certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as well as approval of use permits to demolish and rebuild the two branches. The actions can be appealed to the City Council.

Library demolition / rebuild supporters and their critics clashed during a marathon series of no less than five public hearings held consecutively on various aspects of the Library proposal by the ZAB and LPC. The Zoning Adjustments Board was asked to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report related to the projects, which it did. 

The ZAB also voted 7-0-2 to approve a use permit to demolish and rebuild the South Branch Library, and 8-1 to approve a use permit to do the same with the West Branch Library. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission, holding a meeting in sequence with the ZAB in the same room, voted 7-2 essentially not to interfere with the proposed demolition plans either by holding up the demolition permit for the West Branch Library or by initiating landmark consideration of the South Branch Library. 

Since both ZAB and LPC were presented with staff reports, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and consultant documents totaling thousands of pages and did not read into the record full motions, it is not possible to quote here the exact wording of the Commission actions. City staffers are expected this week to issue written copies of the actions the ZAB and LPC took on April 14. 

(Disclosure. I spoke at some of the public hearings, offering comments critical of the Environmental Impact Report and the proposals to demolish the two branch libraries. I am not a member of Concerned Library Users, the group suing the City, or the Library Users Association. I am a past president of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library, and also a board member of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, but spoke only as an individual.) 

Donna Corbiel, the Director of Library Services, was huddling in the audience with a group of consultants and supporters of the Library’s current plans, and handing out speaker cards to them when I arrived and took a seat nearby. Others trickled in. Ultimately the room seemed a third to half full, although attendance dwindled as the evening wore on. 

Zoning Board and Landmark Commission each took the podium twice to conduct public hearings and meetings under the watchful eye of Steven Buckley, the ZAB staffer, who periodically advised them on what action or policy they were considering. 

The arrangement of five separate public hearings, each on a different aspect of the branch library development was a confusing affair. 

Some public speakers tried to speak directly to the specific subject of a given hearing, while others made more general comments. Because of the format, a number of individuals went to the podium several times, while others chose to speak only once. 

The Landmarks Commission sat in the audience while the Zoning Board heard public testimony and took action, and vice versa. 

The public hearings consumed most of the meeting time. Discussion by the ZAB and LPC was abbreviated, and almost non-existent on some of the issues up for a vote. Many of the 18 Commission members present said nothing, or very little, during the deliberations. 

Public testimony was split between supporters and critics of the Library’s current plans. In general, supporters of the Library’s current plans to demolish and rebuild the West and South Branch libraries argued that the new building projects represent the best way to replace the existing, inadequate, branch library facilities and that any delay endangers the projects. 

Some speakers in support of the Library’s current plans broadly inferred that any opposition to demolishing the branches would be racist. 

Critics of the Library’s current plans argued that the alternative plans by architect Todd Jersey, prepared at the request of Concerned Library Users and submitted during the EIR process, represent a better and possibly more cost effective way to improve the branches and also provide more space for the West and South branches to accommodate future expansion. Most of these speakers also argued for the historic value of the original parts of the two branch libraries. 

Some speakers also emphasized that Measure FF, the 2008 bond measure that provided funding for branch improvements, did not refer to demolition and rebuilding, calling for renovation, expansion, and improvement of the existing branches instead. 

Concerned Library Users has sued the City of Berkeley regarding the branch library projects. A portion of the lawsuit that contends Measure FF did not authorize demolition of the branches is still pending. 

A different portion of the lawsuit calling for an environmental impact report on the branch demolitions and the proposed zoning amendment that would provide new, more lenient, zoning policies for Berkeley’s five public library sites was settled in 2010. Part of the result of that settlement was the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) being considered for certification at this meeting. 

(For the purposes of this article, I’ve summarized and quoted, in roughly chronological sequence, the testimony of members of the public at the several public hearings, and the intervening actions of the Zoning Board and the Landmarks Commission. Direct quotes are from my notes at the meeting. . In most cases I was able to identify a speaker by full name; in a few cases I did not get their full name. Interested readers may also review the on-line taped version of the meeting on the City’s website to hear the complete comments of speakers. However, as of Wednesday, April 20, the City’s website said there were technical problems with the video transcript and it was not yet ready to be posted.) 

Leading off the testimony at the first public hearing before the Zoning Board, Berkeley School Board member Karen Hemphill said she was there “as an individual” and a long time resident of South Berkeley, and “I really want to support the environmental impact report as well as the recommendations that the structures should be demolished in order to have a modern, 21st century, library.” 

She said her son goes to the Central Library instead of the crowded South Branch, and “I really ask that the proposal to demolish the South Branch Library be supported…That process should be honored and not hijacked by a small group of people at the last minute.” 

“I believed the EIR analyzed a reasonable range of alternatives,” said Cathy Brown, identifying herself as a board member of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, a non-profit organization which is raising money to provide furnishings and equipment for the four branches. 

“The process was respectful of the buildings” which will be demolished, Brown said. “The Library, the staff, and the environmental consultants left no stone unturned.” She added that the Library’s demolition proposal “meets the interest of (Measure) FF.” 

“I came to speak on behalf of the West Library demolition,” said the next speaker. “I hope you will build that building to be a really good place in the neighborhood. I’m just asking you to support the people.” 

Kathleen Fogel spoke next, saying she is a ten year resident of Berkeley and noting “I am here as a senior analyst at the California Public Utilities Commission.” 

I urge your support for this project” of demolishing and rebuilding the West Branch, she said. She characterized the Library plan as “a beautiful, attractive, building that will be an asset to the community.” “Over the long term that will save Berkeley money on its energy bills.” 

“That project will put Berkeley on the map internationally” by being a “zero net energy library” she said. 

Linda Schacht, a member of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation Board, said “I want to talk about not only the EIR but also the demolition and use permits.” 

She criticized “the alternative proposals that have been put forth by a small group of people at the last” moment. She said there have been “dozens of meetings, hundreds of citizens had their say” and asserted “the people who put forth this lawsuit do not live near any of these branches” being considered by the LPC and ZAB. 

Diane Davenport, a retired Berkeley Public librarian, spoke as the President of the Friends of the Library. She said she has “been involved in this campaign since we began campaigning for Measure FF in 2007”, and she supported the plans to “renovate and replace” the branch libraries. 

“We think the best plans are before you.” “We urge you to certify the EIR so these four branches can be either renovated or replaced.” 

(During a break, I asked her if when she had campaigned for Measure FF she had discussed with voters the concept of demolishing any of the branches. She said that in campaign meetings she had told people that if the bonds passed, then the Library would have a public process to decide how to carry out branch improvements.) 

Elizabeth Butler identified herself as a homeowner in Berkeley for 57 years and said, “we seniors need that West Berkeley branch.” “We just need our library, please, don’t do that to us.” Her testimony appeared to be in favor of demolishing and rebuilding the branch. 

A woman named Naomi said she lives immediately behind the West Branch. She said, “we’re in support of the new library” but expressed concern about “demolition and construction impacts”. 

“The South Branch is my library”, Lori Kossowsky said, and “I wouldn’t have voted for Measure FF if I had known it would involve partial demolitions.” She said she supported the alternative renovation / addition plans drawn up by architect Todd Jersey for Concerned Library Users. “Our children who use this branch deserve the best branch possible”, she said. 

“The (ZAB) Board should give consideration to Todd Jersey’s plan,” said James Grandison, identifying himself as a Board member of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. “We strongly support Todd Jersey’s design.” 

“As a taxpayer it bothers me--the people on the west side of Berkeley deserve a state of the art library”, which Jersey’s designs would accomplish. “The taxpayers voted for renovation”, he said, not demolition. 

He said his family members were Claremont Branch users, but all the branches belong to all the residents of Berkeley. 

He cautioned the ZAB that approving demolition, when renovation was called for in the bond language, would be a dangerous precedent. “If you take a precedent of a measure for renovation, and you allow a full demolition, what happens to the next project?” he asked. “People are going to use this as an example” to oppose future bonds, or propose things that bond votes didn’t authorize. 

“CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) is a public process”, said Judith Epstein, a member of Concerned Library Users. “In this case the City took quite a bit of time before it engaged the CEQA process” which would allow alternatives to demolition to be considered. “We submitted alternative designs” in the EIR process, she noted. “The (Final) EIR has a number of flaws. You may have noted them if you read the EIR.” 

“It’s very clear a partial demolition (as the Jersey plans propose) has less impact on a historic resource than a full demolition.” 

She noted that the Todd Jersey alternatives propose bigger branch libraries than the City’s demolition / rebuild plans. “Neither the west branch or the south branch are (in the City’s plans) designed to accommodate future population growth”, she asserted. “They don’t analyze what happens when the (branch) libraries need to be expanded.” 

Alice Lapierre identified herself as the City of Berkeley’s energy efficiency coordinator. She said she would “urge you to consider Measure G”, which called for reductions in local greenhouse gas emissions. “The only way we’re going to get there is if when we have the opportunity we redesign our buildings to use less energy.” 

“The City is retrofitting a lot of its buildings”, she noted. 

“The EIR has a number of problems”, said Peter Warfield, speaking for the Library Users Association. “It appears to have been written with a conclusion” in mind rather than giving an impartial analysis, he argued. 

“The zoning amendments include a blank check endlessly into the future” for any project the Library would like to propose at any branch or the Central Library downtown, he said. “We favor improved, upgraded libraries and everyone getting what they expected” after Measure FF. 

He expressed concern that the EIR and documents given to the ZAB and LPC contained few pictures of the two branches before they were altered by unsympathetic expansion. He said that the Library Users Association had sent the City three letters by the stated deadlines, but they did not appear in the packet materials given to the ZAB and LPC. 

(Warfield went over the allotted three minutes, and Councilmember Max Anderson sitting near the back of the room, and a supporter of the branch library demolitions, started vigorously making a sports “time-out” sign with his hands at George Williams, who was chairing the meeting. Williams did allow Warfield and a number of other speakers on both sides of the issue to continue their comments slightly beyond the three-minute limits.) 

I spoke, saying that the proposed zoning amendment went too far, in that it applies to all five Berkeley public library properties and would allow easier demolition or unsympathetic alterations to the Claremont, North Berkeley, and Central libraries in the future. 

I also argued that the historic analysis in the EIR was flawed in that it seemed to argue that renovating the historic South and West branch libraries would be as much of a historic impact as demolishing them. 

After the first public hearing the ZAB quickly voted to “adopt certification of the Final EIR.” George Williams Bob Allen made the motion, Deborah Matthews seconded, and the motion was quickly passed, with eight ZAB members voting in favor, and Gene Poschman voting “No”. 

The ZAB then descended to take seats in the first row of chairs, while the Landmarks Preservation Commission took over the Council dais. The LPC had its usual membership, with the exception of Carole Kennerly who had been appointed by Councilmember Linda Maio to sit in for Carrie Olson for one meeting. 

The LPC opened a public hearing on the West Branch library. 

“We’ve been working very actively to support the Library”, said Liz Hoadley, the Treasurer of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation. “The public has really had a lot of input into the renovation and design of the four branches.” 

Pastor M.. Peeples spoke next, saying “I urge you to approve the plan and move it forward.” “My grandfather could not read or write in Louisiana,” he said, talking about the importance of public libraries. “It’s not based on color, it’s on what people need.” 

He said that high numbers of African-American children in Berkeley drop out of school and “I’m disturbed.” “When I encouraged the people of my congregation for vote for FF” it was for new libraries, he said. 

“Move forward to tear that thing (the West Branch) down and put something up that’s effective for our kids.” “We want this thing moving forward.” “Tear the thing down!” he said. 

“The money will run out. Litigation will make it run out.” “Please approve the knocking down of buildings,” he concluded. “Thank you very much.” 

Elizabeth Watson, vice president of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, said that the Todd Jersey alternative, according to the EIR, meets only four of ten standards of the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic structures. 

“If we’re going to get this done, we have to stay within budget and we have to move” forward, she said. 

“We had some 45 community meetings, all of which were reasonably well attended.” 

Todd Jersey, the architect of the alternative plans for West and South branches, said of the South Branch, “not only should it be saved, we’d save a million dollars in construction costs” with a partial renovation, rather than all new construction, approach. “There’s no reason that it should be torn down.” 

He talked about growing up in Berkeley and using the public libraries. Since the 1970s, he said, “the (South Branch) building has been so abused, misused, and degraded”, but it can be approved. 

Naomi Lavelle who said she lives by the West Branch said, “I wish there was a way we could preserve the historical remnants of the building and put the two (original library and new construction) together.” 

“We would like to see better libraries for everyone, as was originally planned under Measure FF”, said Peter Warfield of the Library Users Association. He said Concerned Library Users had proposed “a design that is workable” and that involves the renovation FF called for. 

“You are considering an historic architectural death sentence”, he told the LPC, nothing again that historic pictures of the two branches before they were altered have not been provided to the Commission. “We’re hearing all kinds of red herrings” in the other testimony, he said. 

Chris Adams, “speaking as an individual” but identifying himself as a past president of Berkeley Architectural Heritage, said he is an architect and planner, and “I am working on the campaign to raise money” for the branches. “As a preservationist I would have liked to have thought they could preserve parts of the buildings”, but he concluded that couldn’t be done with the South Branch. 

The Library, he said, studied a scheme “very similar to the one that at the last minute has been offered up as an alternative.” 

He said he thought the Todd Jersey South Branch design would cost at least nineteen million dollars, more than Measure FF provided for the South Branch, and “the new (construction) schemes that have been brought before you have been carefully worked out.” 

Cathy Brown, speaking again, said, “if this process were without end how many alternatives could we come up with?...At some point you have to say you’ve got enough information here…I urge you to approve the demolition.” 

“The Todd Jersey designs for the West Berkeley Branch are absolutely stunning,” said Judith Epstein, also speaking a second time. “The thing that makes this design beautiful is that it accommodates the growth” needs of the branch. “It’s better for the future.” 

She spoke to the issue of the timing of the Jersey designs, noting “the City made it at the last minute. You can’t submit alternative designs as part of CEQA until the CEQA process is opened”, which the City did not do until 2010. That undermines the arguments that the Jersey plans were “last minute” and shouldn’t be considered, she said. 

“Demolition is forever”, she concluded. She urged the LPC to support “restoring the 1923 reading room (of the West Branch) and make it a gem for the neighborhood.” 

Susan Kupfer, from the Board of Library Trustees told the LPC “it is only with careful process…that we are able to propose these designs.” 

She asserted that it was “always out in the public” that the South Branch might need to be demolished. “Our architects (for the demolition/rebuild plans) were vetted by the community, that was a public process.” 

“We looked at the alternatives. They did not meet our program, they did not meet our budget” “We did consider very similar alternatives” to the Todd Jersey plans, she stated. 

Doug Buchwald said that Measure FF had been “Democracy in action”, and noted “there is nothing about demolition or entire reconstruction in this Measure.” 

“All I ask is that this group honor the direct, expressed wishes of the voters of the City of Berkeley”, he said. “No demolitions.” 

“Over the last two years the Library has continued to move to educate and inform the public about the work that will take place” at the branches, said David Snyder, the Executive Director of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation. 

He urged tearing down the West Branch and rebuilding it. “We’ve allocated over ten years to the process” of planning for the West Branch, he asserted. He said not approving the demolition of the West Branch would “deny the citizens of Berkeley what they voted for.” 

There are “5,000 to 6,000” donors “stepping forward to do it again” and raise funds for the branch furnishes as they did for the Central Library expansion, he said. “We as a community cannot support going over budget.” 

Snyder made a pointed remark apparently directed at Peter Warfield of the Library Users Association about people who don’t live in Berkeley commenting on Berkeley issues. 

(Warfield lives in San Francisco. During a break I asked Snyder if he lived in Berkeley? “No I don’t, I just work here,” he said primly.) 

I spoke about the process of planning the branch libraries, noting that there were only a small number of community meetings held for the West Branch and South Branch projects between when the Library unveiled a proposal for demolishing the branches, and when the Board of Library Trustees voted to adopt demolition as the preferred alternative. 

I said that those meetings had as few as seven community members in attendance at one time, and did not represent a process of hundreds of people and dozens of meetings participating directly in a debate over demolishing the branches, before the Library Board adopted demolition plans. 

I also noted that the Library project team had recently been off by a million dollars in its estimates for the renovation / expansion costs for the North Branch, casting doubt on the credibility of Library consultants to assert that the Todd Jersey plans would be too expensive for the South and West branches. 

“I don’t think anyone WANTS to see a building demolished”, said Linda Schacht of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation. 

“Steve Finacom insults the process”, she stated. “This is what’s before us (demolition), this is what we need to do.” 

Ces Rosales, identifying herself as a Russell Street resident “just a few blocks from the Tool (Lending) Library” said she is a user of the libraries, and “I just want to support the construction of this library as soon as possible.” She said she did not want a plan that would be “denying the residents of South Berkeley a library.” 

Gene Bernardi called the Todd Jersey plan for the West Branch “a stately and classic design”, and supported renovation and expansion rather than demolition of the branches. 

After the public hearing was closed, LPC chair Gary Parsons said, “there might be a surprise in store here.” “Our actions are fairly constrained”, he told the audience. 

In the landmarks ordinance “there is no language allowing us to deny the demolition”. Instead, the LPC could approve, approve modification of the landmark West Branch library, or move to suspend the demolition for a period of time. 

Commissioner Antoinette Pietras immediately said “Move to approve as proposed”, that is, support demolishing the West Branch. Commissioner Kennerly seconded the motion. 

Commissioner Austene Hall spoke against demolition. “I believe the community needs fantastic libraries”, she said. “I believe we can have wonderful libraries (and) south and west branches with partial restoration and new construction.” 

She noted the West Berkeley branch was Berkeley’s oldest surviving public library, having been built in 1923. With renovation and a new addition, she said, “you can have a beautiful, functional library.” 

Hall moved a substitute motion to suspend the demolition permit. Commissioner Anne Wagley seconded. “I would not have voted for Measure FF if I knew it involved demolition of the South and West branches” she said. “It makes me very said that South and West Berkeley won’t have their historic resources in the area. 

Wagley said that the LPC had “strongly suggested to them (the Library) that the preservation alternative be considered.” “I’m very sorry that more weight wasn’t given to Todd Jersey’s proposals.” 

“I just wish the Library Board and City staff would have given more weight to exploring possible alternatives.” 

“I would be opposed to any delay”, said Commissioner Paul Schwartz. “The name of the game is delay, delay, delay”, he asserted. “If there’s something to protect that’s good, but neither of these buildings are particularly unique.” 

“I really see nothing worth saving”, he said. “I think it’s time to get going on this…the funds are going to run out.” 

Commissioner Steve Winkel said he would “speak against the substitute motion, reluctantly.” He said the West Branch “fails the test” of having the potential to be renovated a green building “and needs to be demolished.” 

“I do not take this lightly”, he said. “But I do think that having the building demolished is the right thing to do.” He also said he felt that the Todd Jersey plans would prove more expensive than Jersey had estimated.

Commissioner Miriam Ng also spoke against the substitute motion, saying she had been on the LPC subcommittee that had looked at the West Branch and alternative designs there with the Library consultants. 

“There was really nothing to preserve. Everything was ROTTED”, she said. “We did look at trying to save the building, save parts of the building, and none of them (the alternatives) actually worked.” 

The LPC then voted on the motion to suspend demolition. It failed 2-7, with Hall and Wagley voting in favor. The original motion to endorse demolition was then voted on. It passed 7-2, with Hall and Wagley opposed. 

After a break, the Landmarks Commission convened again to consider the South Branch Library. Unlike the West Branch, the South Branch is not an officially designated historic resource of the City, but Library consultant studies had shown it to be eligible for historic listing. 

Chair Parsons characterized the purpose of the discussion as revisiting the May 6, 2010 LPC meeting at which the Commission had not initiated any proposal to landmark the South Branch. 

A third public hearing of the evening was then opened. 

Todd Jersey was the first speaker. He talked with animation about the “beautiful human scale” of the original South Branch library, and spoke to Commissioner Winkel’s earlier comments that the South Branch would be too expensive to renovate and expand. 

“I know what I’m talking about with costs”, said Jersey, who was the architect for the historic Richmond Plunge renovation. “Don’t tell me about hyper inflated ideas of cost.” 

“We could save a million dollars by saving that building” (the South Branch). “It’s a very simple, straightforward” seismic retrofit project, he said. 

“Let’s save this building”, he urged the Commission. “This building can be restored into a wonderful architectural gem.” “It’s a Berkeley gem, this is a piece of Berkeley history.” 

I spoke, for a second time during the evening, saying that buildings of the “recent past” like the South Berkeley Branch library are often difficult to save because people don’t think they are old enough to be historic. I also said it was not accurate for LPC Commissioners to believe that initiating a process to consider the historic status of the branches would delay the Library’s plans. 

The Library administration has said that only two branches will be closed at a time. The Claremont remodel is now underway and the North Branch hasn’t yet closed, so the South and West branches cannot be closed until sometime in 2012. That would allow sufficient time for Commission review of the historic issues without delaying the Library. 

Peter Warfield spoke for a third time during the evening, noting that the South Branch had won both an American Institute of Architects and an American Library Association award when it had been constructed in the early 1960s. 

Judith Epstein testified for the third time as well, saying, “The South and West projects are not supposed to start until 2012.” “The delay is actually the City’s.” 

“I don’t anticipate any delay because of the lawsuit” by Concerned Library Users, she said. 

“The (original) design is still there, even thought it has been worked over”, she said of the South Branch. “It just needs to be restored.” She said that the City’s planned all-new branch involves a lot of money constructing a new façade, while restoring the original portions of the building would preserve the original façade and not require an elaborate and expensive new design. 

“Todd Jersey’s design does satisfy all the (Library) program conditions”, she asserted. “Save this structure.” 

Susan Kupfer spoke for a second time for the Board of Library Trustees. She acknowledged that the South Branch schedule would not require demolition before 2012, but that the Library needed to proceed with finishing the design for the new building and “we have relied on the recommendation you (the LPC) made in July of 2010.” 

“Because of the EIR, because of the use permits” she said, “we have not gone forward with the construction drawings which would be the very next step.” 

“We need this time to be able to work on the construction drawings. We need to know we’re not stalled in the construction process.” 

“On the timing issue, we would very much opposed any sort of delay on the South Branch”, she concluded. 

David Snyder, speaking for a second time, urged the Commission to “vote to take a pass on the South Branch.” 

He said that the Library had considered moving the South Branch to the new Ed Roberts Campus at the Ashby BART station but “the community rose up and said no”, they wanted a branch at the current location. 

“You could go back to that architectural element (the original design) if you vacate the site and turn it into a nice little historic preservation”, he said sarcastically. 

The current branch libraries were designed to have five to eight thousand books, he said, and there are currently “fifty thousand books” at each branch. 

Linda Schacht spoke for a third time, saying, “it would be an enormous disservice to the South Berkeley community” not to demolish the existing branch. “It would inevitably delay the process.” 

“The people want it, they want a new South Branch.” “It would be a huge disservice to that community if it would be the one who didn’t get a new library”, she said. 

Ces Rosales spoke for the second time. “I beg you, please, please!” she said to the Commission. “I don’t feel like the building is worth saving.” “For the needs of the community, as a library it should be functional.” 

Gene Bernardi spoke for a second time, saying that she had talked to the original master architect of the Hans Ostwald firm that had designed the South Branch. 

“He is very, very, proud of the building”, she said. She said original plans for the building that would help clarify details of the original structural design might be available at the office of architect E. Paul Kelly. 

“I am very tired of hearing people say there are people from outside the community expressing their concerns,” she said, apparently in response to the attack on Warfield as a San Francisco resident. The Library Users Association is concerned about libraries, she said. “There’s no reason in the world they can’t be concerned about libraries everywhere.” 

“A lot of the people who are complaining about ‘outsiders’, for example the (Berkeley Public Library) Foundation, I don’t think they live in South and West Berkeley”, she said. 

The Commission then closed the public hearing. Commissioner Kennerly immediately moved that the Commission take no action on the South Branch, and Commissioner Pietras immediately seconded. 

“I’m persuaded that if we initiate, it will cause a delay”, Kennerly said. “For years there’s been a big gap in terms of the resources in South Berkeley.” We also want to be sensitive to what people in the area are saying.” “People want things to move forward as soon as possible”, she said. 

“Libraries are about the living, about what is going on now”, Kennerly added. “It’s in the context of the people, the children, the families.” 

Commissioner Hall said “when this came to us in May of 2010, I had been to the South Berkeley Library, I had been through it…but I hadn’t spent much time reading about it, looking at it.” 

Since then, she said, the Library consultant, Page & Turnbull, had produced a report in September of 2010 that had evaluated the South Branch and said it had historic merit. 

“I’ve gotten an immense fondness for it. It’s a little gem”, Hall said. “When you landmark a property in Berkeley it does not mean you can’t touch it”, or make changes, she said. “You can restore it, you can renovate it.” “You can add onto it”. 

“This building deserves to be saved”, she concluded. It’s “amazing little building that will be even more amazing if we restore it and add on to it.” 

“It is a gem, and I wish it would be preserved,” agreed Commissioner Wagley. “Landmarking means this building has value to our history.” 

She noted that most of the work of the LPC involves reviewing and approving plans for changes to landmarked structures. “We deal with things changing over time.” 

“Once a structure is demolished, it is gone forever”, she said. “This is a very unique and charming building.” “Both West and South (branches) are significant in Berkeley’s history.” 

“South Berkeley has many charming houses,” Wagley added. “It’s too bad South Berkeley would lose a landmark (civic) building.” 

“It is very sad, it is very, very sad, if this building goes.” 

“I really don’t think it functions well as a library,” said Commissioner Paul Schwartz. “I don’t find anything unique about this library, it’s not attractive.” 

“It looks like a hurricane shelter in Miami,” he asserted. “I don’t think financially it could be restored to its original beauty.” “I don’t know why anyone would want to preserve that building.” 

“The Sixties is one of my least favorite eras of architecture”, he added. 

After the discussion, the Commission voted 7-1-1 to take no action in regard to the South Branch, with Commissioner Hall opposed, and Commissioner Wagley abstaining. 

The migration of the commissioners began again, with the Landmarks members trekking down off the dais and the Zoning Adjustments Board resuming seats there and opening the fourth public hearing of the night, this time on the use permit for the West branch library project. 

Chair Williams told the audience that while the ZAB would hear public comments, “please recognize that the ZAB has another meeting following this meeting,” with other items of business. 

Attendees at the other meeting had already started to filter into the room, as people interested in the library discussion left. Williams said he would limit comments in this hearing to two minutes, instead of three. 

Edward Dean made a brief presentation for the project architects for the West Branch rebuild. He said the design team had looked at three schemes, and that a renovation alternative for the building could not make use of the original 1923 building entry, so “it necessarily has to be a two story scheme.” “The two story scheme raises several issues, there’s extra cost involved”, he said. 

“It’s not possible to do a zero net energy design with this type of geometry” (a two story building), and a renovation “costs about $600,000 more than the money available in the budget.” The new building “is a zero net energy design” he said. 

“There is not a significant embodied energy savings by going with the partial preservation alternative”, he added. “It in the case of West there’s no basis for this discussion of embodied energy”, that is saving energy by renovating rather than demolishing. 

When Williams called for additional public comment, no one responded from the audience. Commissioner Michael Cohen then immediately moved to approve the project “use permit, which includes the demolition” and the findings suggested by City staff in the staff report. 

The Commission voted 8-0-1 to approve the use permit, with Commissioner Poschman abstaining. 

Williams then opened the fifth public hearing of the evening, on the use permit for the South Branch. 

Avery Moore from the design team for the South Branch made a brief presentation, saying, “it’s a very different project than the West.” When designing the current building, Hans Ostwald, she said, “deliberately turned it inward and away from the street and towards landscape courts.” 

She said the original reading room with its pyramidal roof was “conceived as an elegant contemplative space, but that no longer applies.” The design team, she said, had studied a partial preservation scheme and “we found it had to go to two stories,” which the Library didn’t want. 

She said that the Landmarks Commission had “come to the same conclusion that an all new scheme was preferable.” 

There were a small number of speakers during the public hearing. 

I spoke for a fourth time, noting that the staff-written findings for the use permit state that the action would be carrying out the will of the voters in Measure FF, but that the findings mischaracterize Measure FF as calling for “rebuilding” of the branches, rather than the actual language that limited the projects to renovation and expansion. 

I also noted that the entire meeting had proceeded with none of the staff or Commissioners noting that the public hearing and the use permits were being held for an address that didn’t exist. The documents stated “Russell Avenue”, instead of “Russell Street.” 

Judith Epstein spoke for the fourth time, stating that a complete rebuild of the South Branch “can’t be legally financed by Measure FF.” “There is a better way”, she told the ZAB. “This is really not the best option.” 

She added, “the Zoning Amendment, as written, is actually not analyzed in the EIR.” 

Gwendolyn Reed spoke, saying she lives at Otis and Russell, Street, near the South Branch. “I would like to see the library demolished and another one built”, she said. “I’ve seen it become too small…Please don’t let this library remain as is.” 

Peter Warfield spoke, noting that the EIR doesn’t say what will happen to salvaged materials from the historic South Branch. They should be retained and reused, he said. “Other, better, options are available”, he said, echoing Epstein. “Measure FF does not justify demolition.” 

He said the proposed new building design was “unwelcoming” forcing library users to enter a passage way and turn a blind corner in order to reach the interior. 

Susan Kupfer spoke for a third time, “speaking for the Board of Library Trustees.” 

The use permit contains some suggested mitigations, she said. She said using those mitigations to save fragments removed from the old structure “would preserve through (an) exhibit and installation that would honor this building and make it available to the future of Berkeley.” (She was referring to mitigations calling for a display in the new building on the old, demolished, building.) 

When the public hearing closed, Commissioner Deborah Matthews spoke. “I’ve been waiting for this moment”, she proclaimed. She said that “one of the things I think happens for South Berkeley is (the statement that things have to be done) ‘more cost effectively’—I think that has to change”, she said. 

“With the South Berkeley Library, it has had its life…now it’s time for a change”, she said. “By doing anything except for demolition of the site we are not serving the community.” 

Don’t save a building, “save community minds”, she said. “To make the assumption that the meeting spaces in that building wont’ be utilized (by the community) is a total misnomer.” 

Matthews moved to approve the use permit. The motion passed 7-0-2, with Commissioner Poschman and Commissioner Bertha Romo abstaining. 

Williams belatedly made mention to staff that the use permit should be corrected to reflect the real street name of the South Berkeley library. 

After the meeting, I asked both Linda Schacht from the Berkeley Public Library Foundation and Judith Epstein from Concerned Library Users if they had any reaction to the meeting. 

“I’m going to draw back from public involvement now, since the people who are concerned are now getting involved”, Schacht said, gesturing in the direction of four or five African American women sitting in the front of the room. She did not respond to a later e-mail request for comment. 

Judith Epstein responded to the same e-mail request with this statement. 

"CLU believes that there are feasible alternatives to total demolition that accomplish the library program objectives without destroying historic resources. This is exactly what Measure FF promised to do. Todd Jersey's designs are simply beautiful, and his partial preservation alternatives provide for bigger libraries than the City's plans do. This will accommodate the needs of growing neighborhoods without additional construction or expense in the future. The City's designs only accommodate the current level of service. What's going to happen when that's not enough?"