News

Menlo Park: Locals question library siting process

After mediators launched Menlo Park's third meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15, to pick a site for a proposed new main library by insisting attendees abide by a series of discursive ground rules, several attendees stood and asked city staff politely but assertively to make sure their comments were accurately recorded and their feedback taken into account.

The meetings, for attendees, involved being told ground rules for the discussion, hearing a presentation, getting a chance to ask clarifying questions, breaking into small groups, offering feedback and then relying on note-takers in each group to accurately record and relay their feedback. Several attendees of previous meetings said they didn't think the opinions they'd previously expressed were accurately represented by staff.

The meetings, intended to ascertain public opinion as to whether the city should pursue building a new library at its current Alma Street site – if a library construction project is approved – or relocating it closer to Laurel Street, raised other questions about the reliability of the public process.

One attendee pointed out that during the second siting meeting, there seemed to be little public support for the Laurel Street site. At the third meeting, consultants raised a number of arguments as to why the Laurel Street site might be preferable – if the library were relocated there, it would ease interim library costs and could free up the space for other uses, such as an outdoor amphitheater, suggested consultant Chris Noll of architectural firm Noll & Tam. By the end of the meeting, one small group out of three expressed support for the Laurel Street site.

On the other hand, one topic that did appear to have mixed opinion during the previous meetings – whether affordable housing should be built as part of the project – appeared to have already been ruled out by city staff. Assistant Library Director Nick Szegda said that adding housing would cause delays to the project, since it would require a full environmental impact review, so staff wasn't likely to recommend moving forward with housing to the City Council.

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Angie Evans of the San Mateo County Housing Leadership Council, who two days prior had presented the City Council a video of people in the community voicing support for housing as part of the library project, said that there's some misinformation about housing going around. Stand-alone affordable housing buildings tend to have the most access to state and federal funding, and there's no reason a separate stand-alone affordable housing project couldn't take place alongside the library, but start construction later because of an extended timeline to accommodate an environmental review, she said.

Watch the video here.

Meeting attendees conducted a rough straw poll of their own as to who supported the library project at all. Several hands, out of about 45 attendees, were raised. (This was done informally and quickly, so may not have accurately captured the sentiment in the room.)

When staff insisted that the question wasn't within the scope of the meeting's agenda, an attendee asked, "Why not? We're paying for it," referring to the roughly $30 million the city will have to come up with to pay its share of funding needed to make good on an offer by developer John Arrillaga to pay for the remaining construction costs.

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Menlo Park: Locals question library siting process

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 16, 2018, 11:34 am

After mediators launched Menlo Park's third meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15, to pick a site for a proposed new main library by insisting attendees abide by a series of discursive ground rules, several attendees stood and asked city staff politely but assertively to make sure their comments were accurately recorded and their feedback taken into account.

The meetings, for attendees, involved being told ground rules for the discussion, hearing a presentation, getting a chance to ask clarifying questions, breaking into small groups, offering feedback and then relying on note-takers in each group to accurately record and relay their feedback. Several attendees of previous meetings said they didn't think the opinions they'd previously expressed were accurately represented by staff.

The meetings, intended to ascertain public opinion as to whether the city should pursue building a new library at its current Alma Street site – if a library construction project is approved – or relocating it closer to Laurel Street, raised other questions about the reliability of the public process.

One attendee pointed out that during the second siting meeting, there seemed to be little public support for the Laurel Street site. At the third meeting, consultants raised a number of arguments as to why the Laurel Street site might be preferable – if the library were relocated there, it would ease interim library costs and could free up the space for other uses, such as an outdoor amphitheater, suggested consultant Chris Noll of architectural firm Noll & Tam. By the end of the meeting, one small group out of three expressed support for the Laurel Street site.

On the other hand, one topic that did appear to have mixed opinion during the previous meetings – whether affordable housing should be built as part of the project – appeared to have already been ruled out by city staff. Assistant Library Director Nick Szegda said that adding housing would cause delays to the project, since it would require a full environmental impact review, so staff wasn't likely to recommend moving forward with housing to the City Council.

Angie Evans of the San Mateo County Housing Leadership Council, who two days prior had presented the City Council a video of people in the community voicing support for housing as part of the library project, said that there's some misinformation about housing going around. Stand-alone affordable housing buildings tend to have the most access to state and federal funding, and there's no reason a separate stand-alone affordable housing project couldn't take place alongside the library, but start construction later because of an extended timeline to accommodate an environmental review, she said.

Watch the video here.

Meeting attendees conducted a rough straw poll of their own as to who supported the library project at all. Several hands, out of about 45 attendees, were raised. (This was done informally and quickly, so may not have accurately captured the sentiment in the room.)

When staff insisted that the question wasn't within the scope of the meeting's agenda, an attendee asked, "Why not? We're paying for it," referring to the roughly $30 million the city will have to come up with to pay its share of funding needed to make good on an offer by developer John Arrillaga to pay for the remaining construction costs.

Comments

Observer
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:08 pm
Observer , Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:08 pm

The three meetings appeared to impose the Library Staff and Consultant’s bias for a new Library as opposed to soliciting public comment. The process was flawed, resulting in unreliable outcomes. The current Library isn’t perfect but overall is good enough. Suggest the city focus on more pressing matters and pass on this time sensitive and costly project, especially when there are currently 40 City employee openings with 10 more or so soon coming up.


time to move on
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:17 pm
time to move on, Menlo Park: other
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:17 pm

If the library bond wasn't popular before, placing affordable housing on top of it is sure to make it even more popular.
Why won't the Council majority let this project go? There are more important issues in the City. You don't need to spend our money on something we don't need. Is this project supposed to make us feel better about the traffic disaster on Willow?


Blondie
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm
Blondie, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm

It is time to for the library project to pause, step back and reflect on its failure. And move on. The project goals have changed too many times, and the process has involved too much confusion and a failure to articulate clear objectives in a neutral and objective fashion. There is no leadership laying out a desirable and coherent vision for participants to support. The city has spent enough money, time and resources on a project that is not going to happen in its present form. Let's be done with it.


We're paying for it
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:38 pm
We're paying for it, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 16, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Last night's meeting was my first, and it was alarming to hear that input from prior meetings had been ignored. The excuse given by the organizers was that they couldn't read the handwriting of the people who had taken notes!

Facts:

1) A gift with so many strings is not a gift.

2) It's our money. Arrillaga claims he'll pay everything on top of our $30 mm, but I expect he'll just take our money and make a decent profit. The new Atherton library is costing under $20 mm.

3) We, not a resident of another city need to set our city's priorities. If we want to commit to an extra $30 mm in expenditures -- over $1000 per resident with all costs factored in -- that money should go where it's most needed.

4) The organizers repeatedly dodged questions about where the money would come from. Maybe a bond, maybe utility taxes. It's not an insignificant amount. Money should be among the first topics that's resolved, not the last.

Meeting in the library underscored the fact that it's an attractive and fully-functional facility. "Right now, there isn't meeting space except in the basement" said one organizer, ignoring the fact that we were meeting upstairs (and had plenty of room to do so.) Noll, the designer/developer, talked about adding extras like a video production center and cute little bubbles for kids to read in, and posted photos of other libraries "because we know you feel competitive with other cities" (!) but they were hardly compelling. We've got a nice library! Can we accept that and move on to more pressing issues?



New guy
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 3:35 pm
New guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 3:35 pm

“We need a new library!” —- said no one prior to somebody offering free money, and hey all it takes is more otp (other peoples money) and we could have some fun working with consultants and designers. Good deal right?


Activist
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 3:39 pm
Activist, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 16, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Didn't they do the needs survey for this library 3 years ago? I thought we already knew we needed a renovation here.


housing
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 16, 2018 at 5:35 pm
housing, Menlo Park: other
on Feb 16, 2018 at 5:35 pm

@Activist, yes the needs survey was done before, but now the project has grown to include housing with Arrillaga is willing to build it and cover about 2/3rds of the costs.


Drinking
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 16, 2018 at 7:34 pm
Drinking , Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 16, 2018 at 7:34 pm

@housing They aren't paying for affordable housing with the bond measure or arrillaga money though. That would be paid for from a totally different pot of money.


bruce adornato
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 17, 2018 at 8:48 am
bruce adornato, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 17, 2018 at 8:48 am

I am not in favor of spending 30 or 40 million dollars with bond or utility tax money on a new library. The current library is more than adequate and could be spruced up with a few million dollars.

The problem with the current library for me is the difficult access in and out of the El Camino Ravenswood Avenue Alma Laurel Railroad Tracks quagmire traffic mess. Which points out that the library project is a diversion from the real problem in Menlo Park is traffic management.


The voice
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 17, 2018 at 9:02 am
The voice, Menlo Park: other
on Feb 17, 2018 at 9:02 am

[Disrespectful post removed]


Facts
Portola Valley: other
on Feb 17, 2018 at 2:53 pm
Facts, Portola Valley: other
on Feb 17, 2018 at 2:53 pm

Mr. Arrillaga is a resident of Portola Valley.


Think ahead,
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2018 at 1:20 am
Think ahead, , Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 19, 2018 at 1:20 am


Has anyone thought this through with the knowledge that in 10 years everyone will have free wifi using their multitude of new devices. Hate to say it folks but less people will reading books every year.

The Apple I phone can now do almost anything you need, including medical readouts, picture what the technology will be in the next 10 years, probably avatars reading to you in full character, Think where AI will be.

I'm all for a nice remodel and flow of more new books but 30M+ dollars you have to be kidding.

I think there are some pompous egos here. "My Library's bigger than your Library"


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2018 at 8:42 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 19, 2018 at 8:42 am

Think Ahead is right. Libraries are already becoming an anachronism. Keep the building, remodel maybe, put in more computer stations for people to connect to books on the internet. In 10 years any book that is in a library somewhere will be in digital format and available on the internet. $30m is a ridiculous, unnecessary spend that the city doesn't have. I'm not interested in having my taxes raised to fund a totally unnecessary building.


really?
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2018 at 2:04 pm
really?, Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Sounds like everyone will be downloading Farenheit 451 soon.....


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2018 at 8:18 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 19, 2018 at 8:18 pm

"Sounds like everyone will be downloading Farenheit 451 soon."

Hyperbolic much? No one is talking about burning or eliminating books. The reality is those books, none of which will be burned, will be on the internet in digital format making libraries as we know them unnecessary.


Think ahead,
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2018 at 11:35 pm
Think ahead, , Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 19, 2018 at 11:35 pm



Att. Library Board Members, and City Council,


Looks like about 150 to 0 against on this unofficial but overwhelming compilation of opinions,




Agenda
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 20, 2018 at 6:54 am
Agenda, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 20, 2018 at 6:54 am

The City staff will not tolerate any informal polls! they have already decided to accept the Arrillaga library proposal (and god knows what else), now they’re holding meetings to pretend to accept residents’ input but it’s just a PR campaign. This is all thanks to the way our City Manager operates. Let’s hire more consulatants to sell this boondoggle! This City Council has the interests of the developers ahead of residents, IMO.


bruce adornato
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 20, 2018 at 9:18 am
bruce adornato, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 20, 2018 at 9:18 am

three comments:

1) has anyone ever seen the actual proposal from Mr. Arrillaga? Is it written? If this is a gift why does it have to be a new building and not a re model or an upgrade to the present library facility? Is there a hidden agenda?

2)Where can we see a copy of the poll that the CIty undertook to assess public interest in the library?

3)Is there a better way for the CIty Council to learn the majority view of this project other than letters to the editor, and emails and expensive polls forumulated by a consulting group and the CIty Manager?


We're paying for it
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 20, 2018 at 1:00 pm
We're paying for it, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 20, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Following on to Bruce's comment: I know they surveyed library users, but I'd like to know how many of those people live in the city, and what percentage of residents use the library. I used to check out books a couple of times a week, but my kids are past the story time age and we're about 99.9% electronic now. A library feels like an anachronism to me.

If residents are using the library, that different. As a taxpayer, I help fund a lot of city services that my own family doesn't use. But we need to see the actual numbers.


Enuff
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 20, 2018 at 2:07 pm
Enuff, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 20, 2018 at 2:07 pm

I agree with the many posters above that we do not need a new library, and I am someone who loves books and uses our library frequently, and I have paid plenty of fines to prove it : )
If we need more space, which is doubtful, then add a new floor on top. Personally, I'd rather see money spent on our book and DVD collections, rather than on the building. The library was actually renovated only a few years ago.

With respect to the future, in my opinion, books in digital format are not, and cannot be, equivalent to physical books. People who love reading generally love reading actual physical books. The reading experience is different. And there are downsides to all the time we spend on our computers and smartphones in terms of recently discovered negative health effects.
Also, a library with actual books is a gathering place for people who want to learn and grow through reading. It would be very sad to lose this. Not to mention that the digital world is not secure.


Apple
Atherton: other
on Feb 20, 2018 at 4:32 pm
Apple, Atherton: other
on Feb 20, 2018 at 4:32 pm

I have no opinion on this project itself, but I do want to say one thing about libraries.

The traditional library model as a place to find books and media is dying. However, libraries themselves can evolve with the times to become more of a place for collaboration and learning. After all, a library's real purpose isn't to store books; it's to promote knowledge.

Since for centuries people got knowledge from books, people have associated libraries with books. People forgot what the underlying mission of a library is.

Libraries will still be needed in the future. They will be more focused on helping students and citizens conduct research, offering classes, serve as community meeting places, or just provide a quiet place to work/read. Not everyone can concentrate in the din of noise at Starbucks. :-)

For elementary school kids, the library will continue to provide ancillary learning opportunities when school is not in session during the summer, weekends, and weekday late afternoons and evenings.

There's a social aspect to how humans learn. Theoretically, it's possible to plop yourself in front of a computer and learn about any topic from the internet. But I bet you will be able to learn better when there's an in-person instructor and the ability to collaborate with your peers in a classroom setting. Humans are social animals. We learn best from other humans.

Libraries just need to adapt to the changing times. It likely means fewer physical books, more e-books, access to knowledge behind newspaper pay walls, and more meeting space and classrooms.

Libraries could even look into new areas, such as providing the tools for the average citizen to self-publish and host community content. That could mean a community newsletter, a pamphlet, or even a book.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 20, 2018 at 6:35 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 20, 2018 at 6:35 pm

"Libraries just need to adapt to the changing times. It likely means fewer physical books, more e-books, access to knowledge behind newspaper pay walls, and more meeting space and classrooms."

Absolutely. And with fewer books being stored on site there will be more room for meeting space and classrooms. And that won't require a NEW library, just a remodeled one at significantly less expense. I'm willing to help pay for remodeling. I'm definitely NOT willing to help pay for a $30m+ edifice to boost the ego of a local developer/billionaire. Frankly, the way I've heard the deal is structured Arillaga stands to make money off this "donation". Don't know for sure, but if he's directly involved in the construction I bet he will because I know how he operates. He's what those of us in the construction industry refer to as a "grinder".


My theory...
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 24, 2018 at 6:47 pm
My theory..., Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 24, 2018 at 6:47 pm

My theory is that Mr. Arillaga is timining the real estate development market. The current real estate recovery period started in 2012. Thirty year data of the nine county SF Bay Area real estate market shows that the recovery period usually lasts for about five to seven years. When the real estate market softens and real estate development stalls, Mr. Arrillaga will be busy building the new Menlo Park library. It’s brilliant. However, many Menlo Park residents want Mr. Arillaga to go elsewhere with his “donation”. Thanks but no thanks.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2018 at 7:15 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2018 at 7:15 pm

"Thanks but no thanks."

Yes, thanks but no thanks. We don't need a new library. Especially one that costs $20m of OUR money.


Skeptic
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2018 at 4:11 am
Skeptic, Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2018 at 4:11 am

Bruce is correct to ask library management for the public poll that shows support for the new library. It hasn't been produced because it does not exist. If the library refers to this poll, management should be pressed to produce it. The poll referred to must be based on the small numbers (20?) of people who participated in the library's 2015 strategic planning process. Those involved were library supporters, so the poll results are equivalent to the minister asking the choir if they would like a bigger church. Naturally, they will say "Yes." Unfortunately, the library's strategic planning process did not adequately include a cross-section of the Menlo Park public, including non-library users and those against libraries. Relying on the opinions of their library supporters gave the library a false sense of confidence in the public's support to build a new main library.


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