Viewpoint - September 21, 2011

Editorial: Library an opportunity for Atherton

Atherton has a chance to nearly double the size of its tiny library if the City Council has the courage to move ahead with the best option found by a citizen task force that has been working for over two years on the issue.

Of the two options presented, we prefer a new, 11,000-square-foot building in Holbrook-Palmer Park that would be large enough for use as a community center and easily could accommodate the activities that are now part of up-to-date modern libraries, with rooms for meetings, children's story hour and other functions. Such a building would be a tremendous asset for the town, which now offers library services in an 82-year-old building that is in bad need of rehabilitation.

The second, and in our opinion less desirable, option is to simply upgrade the 4,790-square-foot library now in use at Town Center, which would require a seismic retrofit and two more parking places on a site that is cramped and so close to the Caltrain tracks that when trains speed past in either direction all conversation in the library must stop. Despite the building's charm, it makes much more sense to use the site for a future expansion of Town Hall or to house the building department, which now operates out of trailers.

But perhaps the best part of the library proposal is that a new building is virtually paid for already, due to a provision in Proposition 13 that a tiny portion of residential property taxes be set aside to pay for library services. Atherton is part of a county library joint powers authority, and has been watching the town's library fund grow since 1978. It is now worth $5.6 million and by 2015 will be up to $8.4 million, just enough to pay for the estimated cost of a new library in the park.

This is great news for Atherton. In a town that just fired its entire Public Works and Building departments so it can outsource the jobs to save money, and which has just agreed to pay a developer more than $70,000 to settle a lawsuit over a road-impact fee, residents should be thankful that this magnificent improvement can be made with very little additional expense to the town.

More planning needs to be done, but the committee already has determined that razing the park's Main House to make room for the new building will not violate any historic regulations, and that there is adequate parking capacity in the 22-acre park. We believe fears of a huge increase in traffic at the park are unfounded, unless there is a special event scheduled at the library. This would be no different from the traffic drawn to the Pavilion or the Main House for a wedding or other special occasion.

Many critics of building a new library may not understand that the funds to be used are not available for any other use, including passing them on to a school library. Atherton must abide by the rules that come with being a signatory of the regional library joint powers agreement, which say the funds can be used only to support library services for all community members, not just those of a particular school.

We hope more Atherton residents will join those who see the value in adding a much higher quality library facility in Holbrook-Palmer Park. The library would be an asset for the community for years to come.


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