Atherton voters reject library in park


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.


Like this comment
Posted by Lesson in Government
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 7, 2012 at 8:18 am

Here is a lesson in Government and maybe one day will become a book for the Atherton Library.

For the most part Athertonian residents let government function, trust its decisions, and do not get involved in the day to day decisions.

That changed last year when Council Member Kathy McKeithen and Denise Kupperman lead a task force to build a county library in the Park. When the residents advised this was not a good idea McKeithen and Kupperman kept pushing the idea and were helped by the votes of Council Members Widmer and McKeithen.

An internet user group called the Athertonians became the catalyst to stop the library in the park. The group first surveyed its 1800 members and found that 70% did not favor the library in the park.

Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie saw this happening and worked to negate the effects of the Athertonians. Dobbie told the City attorney to "Shut Them Down." McKeithen lead a letter writing campaign to the Almanac to paint the Athertonians as biased. Widmer edited a letter from the town to state the Athertonians made "inaccurate accusations".

For months the residents of Atherton would attend council meetings and ask for WMD to allow a vote on the issue. Finally days before the ballot measure deadline, the Athertonians sent out a petition to request a council agenda item calling for a town vote. Aftern 250 signed the petition, WMD reversed their postion and agreed to a town vote.

For some reason McKeithen and Kupperman did not publicly claim the position of Chair of the committee to Pass the Library in the park issue. No one knows who that person is.

Yes on the Library in the Park, spent $15,000 more than it took it and received "pro bono" work from experienced consultants. Yes on F ran a strong campaign. The Almanac became an endorser and gave them credit, a banner ad ran for weeks stating the Library could be built at "no additional cost to taxpayers". Yet no one knows how that could be possible.

Despite all those efforts, the Yes on F Committee was not able to change the opinion of Atherton residents and on election day and 70% still opposed the library in the park.

Didi, Valerie, Rose, and many others became leaders of a committee to keep open space in the park, stop the library in the park, and require a Town Wide Master plan on facilitie. Although greatly outspent, the power of personal relationships and common sense allowed the residents of Atherton to

Thus ended the Atherton Spring of 2012.

Like this comment
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Library. Good for the people of Atherton. There aren't enough people who live there to warrant a stand-alone library. Make a deal with Menlo Park and be done with it. Further, when the voters reject something 2:1 the council members who pushed it should be pushed out.

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Posted by Atherton Spring
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 8, 2012 at 5:46 am

The "Atherton Spring of 2012" will come alive again in 2014 when Widmer and Dobbie are up for re-election.

Widmer claims to have misread the populace even after hundreds of signatures and throngs of people protested his intentions. Dobbie advocated for the library vigorously in the face of opposition.

They betrayed their constituents. They refused to listen. They need to be watched closely during their next two years. Then, they need to be replaced.

Like this comment
Posted by Lesson in Governement
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 8, 2012 at 7:55 am

The watching should start now. The council did not authorize the mailing of Widmer's letter. Did he violate campaign laws in do so?

Like this comment
Posted by winter of discontent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 8, 2012 at 8:11 am

Mayor Widmer says he "misread" the public opinion and in the words of a famous public figure that calls "for a willingly suspension of belief".
Considering the calls for surveys and public input that excuse is just lame. His current dust up with the Atherton Police Officers Association is a symptom of his lack of skills in working with people and gaining a sense of resident input. To declare he wants to sunset the parcel tax in the face of knowing the police department cannot exist is another "misread" of public sentiment. Mayor you need to do things differently since we are stuck with you for a couple of more years.

Like this comment
Posted by Lesson in government
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 8, 2012 at 9:46 am

How much of the library reserves were spent/ or wasted on EIRs, staff time, legal resources, and other reports before stopping to have the residents vote?

Mayor Widmer needs to stop stating that statements by APOA, No on F Committee, the Athertonians, and anyone who has a differnet view then his are making "false and misleading" statements.

At the same time the Widmer, Dobbie, and McKeithen are claiming the library was going to be built with no additional town funds and not consume any open space in the park.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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