Public Comment

If It Isn't Patronage, What Is It?

By Bradley Wiedmaier
Wednesday May 11, 2011 - 11:27:00 AM

The Berkeley Library Management, has spent over two years falsely presenting South Branch Library as a disintegrating "cinder block" building. Actually nothing is further from the truth. It is a reinforced concrete, post and beam structure, which has been seismically tested. The alternating glass and concrete block infill are not the structure. The false presentation of the concrete block as the menace of disintegrating "cinder block" was deployed to rule out renovation.


The Library has tracked new construction for only the west side branches. The wealthier foothill branches will be getting new library additions, with inspired renovated branches. The West Side will get in South Branch an uninspired rebuild that has none of the textural richness of community history that renovation and expansion would provide. The wealthy neighborhoods will get the latest updated features combined with their heritage. South Branch will get only an uninteresting pedestrian stand-in rather than the community re-enforcement that North Branch and Elmwood will receive. If one wants to charge racism, there is more of a case with this clear differentiation.


The preservation community raised the issues of reuse years ago. The Library management plowed ahead with their staged and proponent packed community meetings. The early Noll and Tam Report which strongly supported renovation was shelved. The Library needed to change the narrative and started implying that anyone supporting the less costly new library renovation schemes with threatening the safety of library patrons, based on the false, crumbling "cinder block" fiction. And now they are implying the other side with being racist, with no basis.


Where all new construction runs twice to three times the cost and budget, likewise the commissions will be twice to three times the size as those for more efficient less costly renovation. Also it is more labor intensive to render an inspired renovation and expansion than the bulldozed clean slate, slam bang, one dimensional fast and dirty new job. That extra labor and intensive care cuts into design and contractor profits. These are the reasons that renovation is being slandered and blocked.


Local community architects have not been involved at South Branch. An award winning Berkeley designed building will be replaced by a San Francisco architect's design. These outsiders have received an inordinate amount of commissions in San Francisco beyond their reputation, and their disappointing design is reflected in the mundane proposal.


All of this though is secondary to the cover up of the Berkeley Library Management change of Library Program through proposed construction changes, rather than presenting the proposed program changes to the public for approval. Reference desks have been combined with other library services. Books have been de-emphasized in proportion to building size. Where one extra foot of bookshelf was the hidden request in the Library's instruction to the architect's, this will actually mean vast decrease in the book proportion relative to library building size. This was all internal and hidden from the public.


Is it racism or is it commissions for the friends of the Library? Why shouldn't the west side receive what the foot hills are getting? Enough of the B.S. charges of racism and smoke screens which in reality undercut the authentic fight against racism. Those who cry wolf and undercut legitimate anti-Racist efforts are no friends of that fight or libraries.