News - November 23, 2011

Atherton council, again, rejects survey on new library

• Atherton is split on whether to build a new library in the park.

by Barbara Wood

One thing is clear in Atherton right now: Residents have not come to an amiable agreement about whether their new library should be built in town-owned Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Some are even talking about putting the issue on the ballot for the voters to decide.

Where to site the library was back before the council for the third time in a month at the Nov. 16 council meeting, and nearly 50 people filled the seats in the Jennings Pavilion in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

The council had two items on the agenda that directly affect the library and one other that could indirectly affect it.

The first was surveying the town's residents to get their opinions about where the library should be placed. The second was authorizing an environmental impact report needed so the library project can go forward. The third is whether the town should resume renting out the park for events, an action that could use up parking spaces that may eventually be needed by the library.

The survey was on the agenda, even though some council members felt they had disposed of it last month, because it was a recommendation from the town's Park and Recreation Committee and town rules require such recommendations be discussed and voted on.

Councilwoman Kathy McKiethen, who is on the committee that came up with the recommendation to put the library in the park, had a two-page summary of the reasons she is against a survey. Among the reasons was that, due to complexity of the issue, "it would be impossible for a resident to make a knowledgeable response to the supposedly simple question 'do you favor a library in Holbrook-Palmer Park?'"

That didn't sit well with some in the audience. "When I am told that the issue is so complex that I shouldn't worry my little head, then I can't decide whether to be insulted or suspicious," resident Jonathan Tiemann said.

Earl Nielsen agreed. "We can't trust the intelligence of Atherton — you're kidding?" he said.

Ms. McKiethen insisted that she had not meant that, however. "I didn't say the people of Atherton aren't smart," she said.

Resident John Ruggeiro said people in Atherton fall into three groups regarding the library site. Some want it in the park, some want it in a new town center complex, and some want it where it is now.

"We need a survey," he said. "It's very obvious we need a survey."

He then asked those in the room to raise their hands if they favor a survey on the library site. Three-quarters of those in room raised their hands.

There were those in the room who did not support a survey, however. "It is time to move on and not try to keep changing that decision," said Karen Bliss, president of the Friends of the Atherton Library.

She suggested that those who don't agree with the council members who chose the park as a site, can "throw the bums out" at the next election. "I'm embarrassed to live in Atherton," she said "Lately I think some of the behavior exhibited in this town is downright shameful."

Walter Sleeth also opposed a survey. "This issue has gone on ad nauseam," he said. "The quiet majority of residents believe .... that a survey vote is a waste of town resources."

At the end, the council once again decided not to survey town residents. Mayor James Dobbie voted with Ms. McKeithen against a proposal to hold a survey. Both had voted to choose the park as the preferred site for the library last month. Council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson, who had voted against the park as the library site, voted for a survey. Bill Widmer, who had voted with council members McKeithen and Dobbie about the park site, abstained from voting. That left a 2-2 tie, with the proposal failing because it had not gained a majority.

Mr. Carlson brought up the issue of a ballot measure on the library. "I'm concerned that if a voluntary- or a council-initiated-type poll is not initiated or forthcoming, there could be .... a citizens' grassroots effort that could result in a more binding outcome," he said. "There are certainly costs of a poll, but I think a formal election could be more costly."

There was less discussion about the environmental impact report that must be done before the library-building project can go ahead. Councilwoman Lewis voted against starting the environmental review process, citing worry about the cost, which will come from the library construction funds.

She and Councilman Carlson voted against changing the contract with the environmental report group to do the more extensive review needed because of public controversy about the park site.

Council members also voted, as they had done last month, to put off a decision on whether they should resume booking large events in the park, asking for more information about the cost to the town for such events.

In April the town stopped taking bookings for events in the park for 2012, since there are plans to build the new library there and the town had been losing money by staging events.

But the council had been asked to reconsider the matter since it appears that any library construction would not start in 2012, and the town has adopted a new way of staffing events that should cut the town's losses.

The report from the public works department estimated that the town could make a profit of $90,000, after expenses, by renting out park buildings for events such as weddings and birthday parties in 2012.

But council members said they did not believe that all costs were included in the report and asked for more investigation.


Posted by Grassroots Effort, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm

From the Almanac September 13, 2011:
"Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, who served on the library task force, forcefully debated several residents who challenged her defense of the park as the optimal library site. As Ms. McKeithen urged the residents to better inform themselves about the proposed project, former mayor Dudley, just a few feet away, spoke passionately with several residents about the need to preserve the Main House."

From the Almanac November 22, 2011
"Councilwoman Kathy McKiethen, who is on the committee that came up with the recommendation to put the library in the park, had a two-page summary of the reasons she is against a survey. Among the reasons was that, due to complexity of the issue, "it would be impossible for a resident to make a knowledgeable response to the supposedly simple question 'do you favor a library in Holbrook-Palmer Park?'" "

Information that is slowly being revealed:
1. Redwood City and Menlo Park do not belong to the San Mateo County Library Joint Powers.
2. Atherton Park would be the site for a county library up to 15,000 square feet.
3. The county has developed numerous library events and programs.
4. The majority of people using the current Atherton Library come from outside of Atherton and that number is expected to increase with the new library.
5. This would be built with approximately $8,000,000 from in Atherton Property Tax dollars and no county tax dollars.
6. Staffing would be funded solely by Atherton Property Tax Dollars.
7. At the November council meeting 75% want a survey.
8. A recent email survey of 1500 residents with 170 responding showed that 75% want a ballot measure and do not agree with putting a County Library in the Park.
9. The Park receives $5,000.00 per wedding.
10. Due to the small size of the Pavilion, the park is only renting for weddings during the Summer when the patio can be used for dining.
11. The former town employee who handled weddings is gone. She recommended increasing the size of the Pavilion to book Winter events. The Council refused.
12. $5,000 per event is profitable, but rather than increase annual revenue by Winter bookings. The council opted to stop all weddings to make way for the County Library.
13. In an effort to cancel events, the council has never accepted the fixed costs to operate the park, but rather assigned a large percentage of those costs to events.
14. Now that Public Works submits a report showing how much revenue is being lost, council does not "Believe" the findings.
15. A Ballot Measure would allow both sides to give 200 word statements in favor and opposed to a library in the park.
16. A Ballot Measure would allow both sides to give 200 word statements in response to the statements of the other side.
17. With 800 words of information and other information that could be provided from websites, house parties, and mailings; residents would make informed decisions.
18. At this point two council members can block the opinion of the Park and Rec Commission, 75% of the people at a council meeting, and 75% of the people responding to a survey.
19. What we do not know is if a county library in the park is strongly desired by 20 residents, 50 residents, or a majority or the town.
20. Hopefully a grassroots effort to force the council to inform the residents of what is really being planned and have A Ballot Measure.

Posted by Stop it, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm

[Post removed. Too much speculation about behavior and motives of named people. Discuss the issue without attributing evil motives to those who disagree with you.]

Posted by WaltKelley05, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 23, 2011 at 9:34 am

WaltKelley05 is a registered user.

This story is worth being on the Almanac's Home Page under Town Forum, Local News,or Today's Hot Topic. The large turn out at the council meeting shows Atherton's interest.

Many or interested in the story and may not click through to find it.

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