Public Comment

Reply to Dr. Grossman – It’s about the Voters

By Gale Garcia
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 09:44:00 AM

I appreciate Dr. Grossman’s thoughtful article about the Branch Libraries. It was forwarded to me as a member of the LeConte Neighborhood Association. I was preparing a letter to Dr. Grossman in response; since the Planet has printed his article, I will respond here instead.

Certainly some people would have voted for Measure FF to finance branch library improvements in 2008 even if they had known that demolition of the historic portions was a possibility. The question is whether the Measure would have passed if the entire electorate, including those who care about historic buildings, had known that demolition was a possibility. 

Measure FF language said nothing about demolition. It specified that funding would be used to “renovate, expand and make seismic and access improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries …”. Note that each of the verbs in this statement require there to be something remaining at each site to “renovate”, “expand” or “make” improvements to, while the actual plans of library officials involve clear-cutting the sites before constructing brand new buildings. 

The ballot and campaign literature not only avoided the terms “demolish” or “replace”, but repeatedly claimed there would be restoration of the branch libraries’ historic features. To preservation-oriented voters, this means that the original portions of the buildings, not the later featureless additions, would be preserved. 

The City’s definition of “demolition” is irrelevant with respect to Measure FF, as are the federal criteria for rehabilitation. Very few Berkeley voters have any idea how the City defines “demolition” or what federal standards are. Voters assume that they are being told the truth on the ballot – and we were promised, over and over again, that the historic portions of the buildings would be preserved. 

I am curious why Dr. Grossman believes that only “part of the facade of one small part” of the West Branch Library would be saved. One need only walk around the site to see that the vast majority of the 1923 building (the only portion that anyone wants to preserve) is intact. The east and west sides of the building even have all of their original windows, which are usually the first things to go. 

Dr. Grossman mentions that the West Branch is “described” as rotting and unsafe. Described by whom? Old buildings are always described thusly by those who wish to destroy them – and library officials definitely want to destroy these buildings. 

Berkeley City Attorney Zach Cowan was quoted in an article printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 29, “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…” This would seem to be admitting, at least for the South Branch, that the intention was always to demolish. Why were the voters not given this important piece of information prior to the election? 

Measure LL, the Mayor’s revised “Landmarks” Ordinance (often referred to as a “demolition ordinance”), was on the same ballot as Measure FF in November 2008. Preservationists fought Measure LL vigorously, and would certainly have linked Measure FF with it if the terms “demolish” or “replace” had been used about the South and West Branch libraries.  

Given the context of the 2008 election, I can see no interpretation other than that Measure FF funding was acquired to demolish and build brand new libraries under the ruse of preserving the existing historic buildings – the voters were deliberately and premeditatedly deceived.