Editorial: Council passes ball to Atherton votersGiven the entrenched position of many residents and a possible referendum on the issue, Atherton Mayor Bill Widmer on June 29 took the wisest way out and, with three fellow City Council members, agreed to put the divisive issue of building a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park on the November ballot.
Criticism of the library plan endorsed by Mr. Widmer and council members Kathy McKeithen and Jim Dobbie had become more and more intense, and many residents, as well as council members Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson, demanded that the plan be put to a vote. The mayor's effort to conduct a poll of 300 residents on the library's location did not survive a vote during an earlier meeting, leading up to the council's June 29 decision.
Although we strongly believe it would be a mistake for Atherton to abandon the plan to build a new library in the park, a 3-2 deadlock on the council does not instill enough confidence among residents to push it through. Ballot language is not yet written, but we hope voters will simply be asked to answer yes or no on whether they want to locate a new library in the park.
The council also agreed to seek "yes or no" votes on building a new town center, and on allowing the local Little League organization to build a new 200-seat stadium in the park. Although the council has been criticized by some for not making the tough decisions, in this case it is appropriate for at least the library and town center questions to go directly to voters. Both could have a substantial impact on the town for years to come. The proposal to locate permanent Little League facilities in the park is now making its way through the planning process, and we see no reason for the council to "kick this can down the road."
On another front, the council eased tensions with Facebook when Mayor Widmer announced last week that the town and the company had worked out their differences over mitigating increased traffic at the intersection of Marsh and Middlefield roads, an issue covered by an EIR accepted by Menlo Park.
Atherton said earlier that it did not agree with the report's findings and issued a veiled threat to sue if it didn't get its way. Mayor Widmer said Atherton will settle its differences with Facebook for $350,000. The town will be able to spend the funds at its own discretion for use not restricted to traffic improvements, the agreement said.
Other items in the deal take on a uniquely Silicon Valley twist, with Facebook playing a consultant role by helping Atherton to become more tech savvy and agreeing to help the town develop a Facebook page.
And the company said it will donate some surplus computers to boost the mayor's pet project of turning Atherton council meetings into a paperless exercise. Recycled display screens and other equipment from Facebook will help create wireless networks to help residents review documents related to items on the agenda.
There is another $5,000 in the deal for the town to spend on unspecified transportation improvements and up to $10,000 to plan bike routes. And the town will also get to borrow Facebook's transportation manager from time to time to discuss bike transit improvements.
Overall, most Atherton residents should be happy that Mayor Widmer and the council have managed to turn what looked like a stalemate on the library and Facebook into what we hope will be positive outcomes. The two deals remove what had been a major cloud over Atherton affairs.