Public Comment

Deceiving the Electorate May Backfire

By Gale Garcia
Tuesday May 03, 2011 - 01:17:00 PM

The campaign against Concerned Library Users, the group who sued the City of Berkeley over illegal use of Measure FF Library bond funding, has reached a new low. Columnist Chip Johnson wrote an amazing hit-piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 29, titled “Shadowy group acts to block new library” which discredits those who seek to prevent bond financing from being misused. 

I quote one paragraph from Mr. Johnson’s article:  

“When the council looked at the bond measure in the spring of 2008 the staff reports that led them all said we would have to demolish the south (library) branch,” said Berkeley City Attorney Zach Cowan. “Our position is that the intent of (Measure) FF allows us to pay for both demolition and rebuilding.” 

Mr. Cowan seems to be suggesting that the mere existence of the staff reports – seen by few, if any, of the voters – allows City officials to use Measure FF funding as the staff reports specify rather than as the voters approved. The staff reports are completely irrelevant to the election of 2008. Voters would have assumed that the ballot language actually meant something. The ballot and campaign language not only carefully avoided the terms “demolish” or “replace”, but repeatedly and consistently claimed there would be restoration of the branch libraries’ historic features. 

Measure LL, the Mayor’s revised “Landmarks” Ordinance, was also on the ballot in November 2008. Residents who care about preserving Berkeley were energized vigorously to fight Measure LL and would certainly have linked Measure FF with LL if the terms “demolish” or “replace” had been used about the branch libraries. I have not a scintilla of doubt that Measure FF would have failed miserably if its writers had been truthful about their intentions to replace, rather than renovate, the libraries in the flatlands. 

In fact, in 2007 and early 2008 there had been a grassroots effort to preserve the South Branch Library by a group of nearby residents called “Save our Library” (SOL). They circulated a petition to preserve and improve the building that was signed by over 600 people and was submitted to the City Council on April 1, 2008. 

A member of SOL wrote in an article called “Save South Branch Library” that appeared in the June 2008 Council of Neighborhood Associations newsletter: “We presented these signatures to the Trustees (of the Library) on August 1, 2007, and have yet to hear any response from them . . . Instead, the Trustees have redoubled their efforts, spending more public funds to further their dreams of a brand-new building, while ignoring our efforts for a children- and community-friendly space. Most recently, they have gone to the City Council to request funds to replace South Branch Library rather than improve it”. 

So in 2007 and 2008 the grassroots effort was to preserve and improve the existing South Branch Library. Rather than listening to the real community, the Board of Library Trustees conducted a sham “community process” and continued to pursue its own goal of a brand new building. Measure FF was placed on the ballot, failing in every way to inform the voters of the real intentions of Library and City officials. Now they want to demolish the flatland libraries. Frankly, it sounds to me like they were asking for a lawsuit. 

In another interesting segment of the Johnson hit-piece, Council member Max Anderson is quoted listing a variety of statistics about this shadowy and anonymous, yet “all-Caucasian” group of plaintiffs. According to Johnson, Mr. Anderson suggests that these individuals should “step into the public light and let people know who they are and what they’re [sic] intentions are”. Why? So that they too can receive the shocking viciousness and bullying that Judith Epstein has received? It should be clear by now that concern about ballot deception is a primary motive of the group. 

It is sad that lawsuits are one of the few ways to get the attention of the Machine. Berkeley has become a truth-free zone. I predict many more lawsuits, referenda and initiatives, unless members of the Machine wake up. Treating the populace like sources of revenue to be manipulated with lies, and then defamed when they resist, can lead to unintended consequences.