By Barbara Wood
Special to the Almanac
After more than a year spent squabbling about a divided City Council's decision to make Atherton's Holbrook-Palmer Park the site of a new library, the town's residents finally had their chance to have their say on Nov. 6 -- and what they said was a resounding "No."
With all eight of eight precincts reporting results, the vote on whether or not to put a new library in the park was 2,004 no to to 903 yes, or nearly 69 percent to 31 percent.
Voters also, by a large margin approved both Measure M, which asked whether the Menlo-Atherton Little League should improve the existing ball field and surrounding areas in the park, using private funds; and Measure L, which asked residents whether funding to build a new Town Center should be restricted primarily to private donations.
The ball field improvements would include building a permanent spectator stand and restrooms, and the resurfacing of the nearby tennis courts.
The vote on the ball field was 1,455 yes to 465 no. On the Town Center, the vote was 1,381 to 471.
The contention over the library site began a little over a year ago when, acting on the recommendation of the Atherton Library Building Steering Committee, the City Council decided by a 3-2 vote, in October 2011, to choose town-owned Holbrook-Palmer Park as the "preferred site" for a new library.
Council members James Dobbie, Bill Widmer and Kathy McKeithen, who was on the task force that recommended the park site for the library, voted for the park site. Council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson voted against it.
Town residents immediately spoke up, asking for a survey of town residents to see if there was support for the library. The council twice turned down the request for a survey, and a group opposing the park site put its own survey online and started a petition asking for an election on the issue.
By June, as the debate continued to escalate, the council members finally agreed to put the measure on the ballot. At the same time they approved the two other measures that were before the voters this November, about the improvements to the park ball field and whether funding to build a new Town Center should be restricted mostly to private donations.
The Atherton Library Building Steering Committee, headed by Denise Kupperman, came up with the recommendation for the park site after more than two years of work drawing up a plan for replacing the town's current library, located in the Town Center in an 82-year-old, 4,790-square-foot building that does not meet current seismic safety standards.
The town had projected that, by 2013, it would have about $8.3 million in a fund that must be spent only on the library.
Ballot Measure F asked voters whether the town should build the library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, razing the existing Main House to make way for the new building, using the library-designated funds.
Rose Hau, who had worked hard on the No on F campaign, said she was "very pleased" with the election outcome. "We worked extremely hard to get the message out that this is not the place for a library," she said.
As an architect, she said, she has always felt strongly that the town needs a master plan for its public buildings before it decides where to site the library.