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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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Why a library scrap and rebuild?

Uploaded: Aug 11, 2017
Update Monday August 14.

There is an additional active discussion on NextDoor regarding my original post, with valuable public comments, especially from Library Commissioner Lynne Bramlett.

F) How will the city pay for its share?

According to last week’s meeting, the likely approach would be a bank loan for the $20 million. This reflects the ‘urgency’ of movement. The risk of the bank loan approach is that payment depends on the city having an operational surplus each year to pay the nut. Traditional alternatives such as issuing a new bond paid by property owners, such as Measure T Recreational Facilities would take about 2 years of preparation and scheduling a ballot. The city could also use and assortment present fund balances. However, most of these are already for other benefits and projects.

Fortunately, Councilmember Ohtaki is really up to speed on the implications of financial options.

G) Quid Pro Quo

Is approval of the full library replacement part of some quid pro quo? Is this gift dotted line connected to approval of some other project? There have been issues in interpretation of ‘public benefits’, the public benefits of El Camino projects such as 500 El Camino. I don’t know.

It is conceivable in order to smooth stalled negotiations, to change the shape of the pots. Since council and staff members do not publically disclose meetings we won't know. But reporters can ask. (see, Council Member Mueller’s transparency proposal, which vetoed by the mayor.)

H) Belle Haven

Belle Haven presently has a small library as part of the elementary school. A dedicate east side branch has long been discussed, and the current thinking is building an enhancement to the Onetta Harris Center.

This puts the city in an embarrassing situation, (or city is putting itself in an embarrassing situation) where it needs to carefully finesse and explain why the wealthy side of town gets this gift.

Lynne Bramlett says, in part, “The City of San Diego recently established an "equity" policy for its library system due to similar challenges as now face Menlo Park. In short, donors in wealthy areas were giving money to the branches near them and due to San Diego's "gift matching policy," branches in wealthy areas were rapidly improving while branches in lower income areas were not.”

I) is a new library edifice a way to expand offices for city hall? I hope not: That would be dishonest.


I attended Tuesday’s (August 8th) meeting of the Finance Audit Committee which met to discuss financing options for $20 million to rebuild the Menlo Park Library. The expected cost is $45 million, and John Arrillaga has generously offered to fund the balance after the City contributes $20 million.

When I first heard of this potential project to rebuild the library several alarms went off.

The Space Needs Study says, “Because of time constraints, staff recommends that public input on the siting options be gathered through a design charrette process facilitated by staff and qualified consultants.” However the report doesn’t enumerate any time constraints, so what’s the rush?

During the initial public comments I addressed the panel on these topics:

A) There should be an accounting of projects that were accomplished through Measure T parcel tax. That there may be funds available in the third tranche of that parcel tax.

B) Menlo Park residents may have more pressing issues, like pension deficits, housing and traffic, and loads of construction already. I suggested that they punt this back to council to get a reality check.

C) I know a lot about libraries, and am a expert in library automation and cataloging; have designed, developed and marketed three library circulation, cataloging systems and full text indexing for NOAA, Tacoma Public Library, a third for a company for whom I was VP, and developed and licensed network software for library automation vendors. Two years ago I testified in a patent case on the nuances of Library of Congress cataloging details (i.e., the date when was a book publicly available).

D) From my experience in Internet trends, materials and queries, and public libraries that I visit, libraries are shrinking – a victim of o- line technology cutting out the ‘middle man’. I cited recent visits to main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which was bore little resemblance to its prior bustling stacks, but now had immigration services offices.

E) I failed to see any statistical data that the common metrics of a library operation and trends: circulation (borrowing) counts, turnstile counts, size of the collections, number of active patrons. No data was provided to show that growth on any of these trend indicators has grown to where a remodel is compelling.

Our library manager attended the meeting, and as the primary stakeholder, I expected a statement to the committee and public as an advocate the project. There was none. This is driven by other forces.

$45 million for a net 11,000 square feet is $4000 sq/ft?) That’s more than the cost of Atherton’s new civic campus. I read the use study of the Menlo Project, which suggests that this is more about public meeting spaces than libraries.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 11, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Stu is precisely correct - libraries as we know them are no longer needed.

The City needs to come into the digital age and revisualize the entire community's information needs and the entire community's need for common meeting spaces rather than just building a new and bigger library West of 101.

Posted by Darshana, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Aug 11, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Thanks Stu! Seems like the last thing we need to spend $45 million on right now, is a new library when the current one is completely adequate.

I still use the library often - but I use the Palo Alto Main on Newell, as that is closer to my house, and frankly the surrounds - by the community garden and art center, old-fashioned perennial flowers on the walkway - are so much more welcoming.

I borrow DVDs and books, and enjoy the art exhibits - Recently there was one where grade-school children had made paintings of dogs & cats in the shelter, to help find them homes, and it was brilliant! I also use the gracious librarians to help me find community or life information - they are a wonderful resource as well!

I have read recently online that lots of folks, millennials to retired to homeless, rely on library services. I sure do! I don't need to own every book I read. One can also sign up to receive books digitally, for free, across the entire peninsula (or larger) library system, if you prefer to read online. I get tired of reading so much online, and love to lie down with a real book in my hands. I love the library!!

Posted by Gisela, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Aug 12, 2017 at 9:30 am

Love the library and use it occasionally: have 4 books and 1 DVD right now. Would like to/plan to use it more. I also know they offer lots of events, etc, but i'm perfectly fine with the building as is. I'd like to know the WHY of this: is it needed/necessary/wise? Agree with posts above: more info is needed. Thank you for this important post: $45 M is nothing to sneeze at in this world of pressing needs.

Posted by free money, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Aug 12, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Stu, you like to complain. However you slice it, this is free money. the city would be foolish to turn this down.

Posted by no free lunch, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Aug 13, 2017 at 5:54 pm

@ free money "However you slice it, this is free money, the city would be foolish to turn this down."

Actually, accepting this money obligates the city to spend money it wasn't intending to spend on this library. There is a concept called "opportunity cost" that means when money is spent on one thing it cannot be spent on another. So the money the city is obligated to spend would have been spent on other, higher priority things, and now that spending could not happen. That is the opposite of "free money". It is an outsider dictating the city's priorities.

John Arrillaga's generosity is large, but don't we really need other things first? Other budget priorities are being pushed back in time and priority. There is no free lunch. The council should be held accountable for junking its budget priorities for this.

Posted by pdj , a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Aug 16, 2017 at 10:14 am

pdj is a registered user.

A donation with "strings" is not a gift.

Posted by Clarity, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Aug 16, 2017 at 12:51 pm

The city's goals cannot and should not be subverted by anyone who walks in the door waving a checkbook. Especially someone who does not live in our city and whose primary interest seems to be in plastering his presence everywhere, much as our favorite bichon Henry likes to do on his walks through the neighborhood.

By the way, a permanent restroom for Lyle Park was approved years ago, and each soccer season we're told it's just a few months away from happening. Generations of kids continue to suffer because of this delay. It shouldn't even cost $1mm -- that's rounding error for Mr. Arrillaga -- make it happen, and thousands of residents will be grateful for the Arrillaga Family Park Facility.

Posted by Sybille, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks,
on Aug 18, 2017 at 1:33 pm

I wished Mr. Arrillaga would offer to build a new library in Belle Haven with no extra costs for MP if possible. It would create a lot of goodwill for him and his name would be there then too.

Posted by JefflaubrE, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda,
on Sep 24, 2017 at 10:10 pm

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Posted by City of Arrillaga, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Oct 18, 2017 at 4:24 pm

So either the people get to decide if we want or need this project or developer Arrillaga does? makes no sense to allow him to dictate to our City how and where funds are spent. If he wants to donate the entire project, that's one thing, but essentially draining public funds from other more urgent projects so he can put his name on another building?!

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