Public Comment

Berkeley Branch Libraries and the Richmond Plunge

By Todd Jersey
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 02:42:00 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter was forwarded to the Planet not by Mr. Jersey, but by a third party, but we are reprinting it since it is part of the public record because it was sent to the Berkeley City Council.

June 17, 2011

To: Members of the Berkeley City Council, Mayor Tom Bates and City Manager Phil Kamlarz

From: Todd Jersey, AIA

RE: Clarifications and apologies regarding my work with the branch libraries and clarifications on my work with the Richmond Plunge 

Dear Members of the Council, Mayor Bates and City Manager Kamlarz, 

I am writing in an attempt to apologize for causing more harm than good in my working with the Concerned Library Group in creating alternative designs to try and demonstrate how to save the original buildings at the West and South Branches of the Library. My goal in getting involved with the CLU was to see if I could help save the original buildings and help to solve the dispute between them and the City. I thought that by demonstrating creative ways to fit the program for both of the libraries into a renovated and expanded branch at each location I could demonstrate how to save the buildings and reduce construction costs and that the original buildings could be saved. 

This clearly backfired in many ways that in retrospect I should have known. Therefore I am also writing to apologize for the stress and hardship that my participation in the project caused you as City officials. Looking back on this now I can see that I naively thought that my participation could help settle the suit and alter the course of the projects in a good way. Obviously I failed to understand the amount of community investment in the work done by the other firms and furthermore, that in a lawsuit, there really is no opportunity for discourse. Instead of helping, my efforts created hardship for the City and for the Library Staff and The Friends of the Library. For that I am personally sorry. Clearly I have no intention of doing anything like this again. 

For the record, I was not a signatory to the CLU efforts to sue the City nor do I support suing any municipality, especially my own.  

I also want to take a moment to make another clarification. Some of you know that I was the restoration architect for the Richmond Plunge and that I have offered to assist our City with efforts to modernize our municipal pools. It has come to my attention that a blog post that Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt which is highly critical of my work on the Plunge was circulated amongst you and that this has discouraged you from wanting my involvement in this project even if offered at no cost. 

In an effort to set this record straight let me first say that Mr. Butt wrote that post when he and I were on two opposing sides of a very contentious issue regarding whether or not the City should pay $350,000 to install a divider in the pool (a swimming pool bulkhead). His view has some accuracy’s but it is told in a disingenuous manner in order to discredit me and my leadership on the Plunge project so he could get his way. If you know Tom Butt you know that he is a vitriolic personality. I can tell you from 6 years of experience that he was often a very difficult person to deal with on the Plunge and caused havoc amongst the rest of us trying to get the project completed. 

Here are the other facts: The Plunge did cost $8,000,000 to build (though under my leadership the Plunge now has almost a million dollars of solar and energy efficient technology and therefore, in essence, I brought the project in way under what was originally budgeted) but I never claimed at any time that I could do a 50 year complete historic restoration for less than that. I did claim I could re-open the pool for $4,000,000 but not a full historic restoration. We ended up doing a full restoration only because I was active in helping to raise money for the project. 

In the act of resurrecting a dead project I had to point out what I saw as unnecessary costs associated with some of the strategies that the architects of the Plunge Report Mr. Butt mentioned proposed. It was never my intention to criticize another firm and for the record, the firm that authored the original report is a wonderful architectural firm and does fantastic work. 

The story of my involvement with the Plunge is long but let me say that what was needed to actually keep this project from demolition was a lot more than a report or a conventional relationship between the City and an architecture firm. What was needed was a designer with my skillset and passion for old buildings to chart a path of success and do whatever it took to get the project built. And that is what I provided. 

I worked for a year at no cost to help the City and the citizen swimmers group called the Save the Plunge Trust to show them ways to get the project pulled off the shelf where it had sat for 2 years. In working with these groups creatively (and somewhat unconventionally) we found ways to reopen the pool with the limited budget the City had and hope was restored to the stakeholder community. With hope restored all kind of good things began to happen. I worked with the Trust and the City to attain grants and even raised a half million dollars of in kind donations myself. Once we got some significant grants the decision was made by the Trust and the City to go for the full restoration which we did at an astonishingly low cost of less than $250 dollars per square foot. The results really speak for themselves. 

For the work on the Plunge my firm has now won multiple design awards and has been featured in Preservation Magazine. See attached. If you want to a fair assessment of my work at the Plunge I invite you to call Rich Davidson, the project manager for the City of Richmond at 510 815 0052 or you can reach him by email at HYPERLINK "" 

In closing I would like to help regain your trust by letting you know some things about me you may not know. Ten years ago I founded a nonprofit ecological educational nonprofit called Living Labs. I have spent over $100,000 of my own money and thousands of hours of my own time over the last 10 years doing pro bono work in schools to help them create gardens, ponds, wetlands and other living systems on campus as a means of full sensory hands on learning about nature and the earth. The mission of Living Labs is to save kids and save the planet and we will be working in Berkeley Schools in the not too distant future. 

My firm, Todd Jersey Architecture is one of the leading green design firms in the nation. My staff and I are working on some very creative endeavors as a part of Todd Jersey Architecture’s Ecological Design Studio. I say this because I want to partner with all of you all in having the best ecologically designed projects in the country right here in our city. In fact my staff and I are working on wide ranging initiatives to do just that which I hope that you will hear about in the coming months. 

You can see more of our work by visiting You can also see my current blog on sustainable design at 

Please contact me if you want to discuss these or other matters. 

Thank you for your service to our wonderful city and for your time and consideration of the contents of this letter 


Todd Jersey, AIA