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Palo Alto City Council Candidate Views on Library Issues

Five of the nine seats on the Palo City Council are to be filled in the November 8, 2005 election.  Since the City Council determines our library system's direction and budget, we asked the ten candidates for their views on library matters.  Here are the questions and their responses.  Candidates are listed alphabetically by last name and no attempt was made to correct typographical errors.  Some candidates didn't answer the questions specifically, so their responses span columns.

Website address if  supplied

1) What specific changes, if any, would you make to the Palo Alto Library system and to its budget?

2) What would you do to alleviate the crowding at the Mitchell Park Library?

3) Do you support the planned reduction in public space of the Downtown Library?

John Barton

- no response -

Norm Carroll

- no response -

Peter Drekmeier
I support using technology, such as self check-out machines, to allow the libraries to continue proving services without requiring additional funding. I also support the library volunteer program.

Furthermore, I would support a new library bond measure to raise revenue for library improvements.
I think the Mitchell Park Library needs to be expanded. It is Palo Alto’s most popular library despite the fact that it is much smaller than the Main Library. Funding for this expansion might come from a bond measure. This is an issue of resources. I would like to see the Downtown Library remain as it is, however, with the current budget shortfall and the temporary closure of the Children’s Library, space is in short supply. I admire FOPAL’s offer to provide $100,000 for a modular building, but am concerned about the cost difference between the FOPAL figure and the $400,000 price tag projected by the Library Director. We need solid facts and figures before making such a decision. Perhaps the City Auditor could help with this.
Victor Frost the librarys are clost to my hart, this is my home town.
Karen Holman


First of all, I support the branch library system. They serve as community centers as well as libraries, serve a part of the community that would otherwise not be served, and because of the settings of most Palo Alto libraries, provide open space for the residents.

An audit of the budget and operations of the library system, just as with any other long-standing program in Palo Alto, should be conducted to identify possible savings and efficiencies. Budget needs having been identified through this process, it can be more directly determined if the current budget is adequate.

The larger question of budget is a City issue not so specific as cutting library programs or adding to programs, but rather the question of efficient City government and retaining and increasing revenues. Too quickly we often go to cutting programs rather than looking at these larger needs that support services.
Additionally, I would like to see more steps taken to utilize technologies such as the automated checkouts and renewals, as an example of improved systems.
It appears the patios are underutilized at Mitchell and that the teen space could be used more efficiently. The space between the library and the community center has previously been considered for possible enclosure to add additional room. These appear to be practical considerations but may also be short term. I would consider totally refurbishing the building for space that better accommodates current needs or possibly building a new facility. A new or remodeled building could be partially 2-story or have lofts in order to gain additional space and to stay in a horizontal design consistent with the open space. While the Children's Library is being renovated, there is need to find additional space to continue services and provide storage. Feasible alternatives that do not reduce services at other libraries should be given highest priority. If I had been on the council at the time, I would have looked more closely at the portable opportunity offered by the Friends of Palo Alto Libraries and the associated costs. I understand this option had been raised earlier, and an earlier consideration would have resulted in better opportunity to evaluate the costs. I do not favor reducing space in our libraries.
Skip Justman

- no response -

Yoriko Kishimoto


* Need to develop better inter-library loan system with neighboring cities, Stanford, and/or County so we can all have a broader, deeper collection at less cost. We need to be able to search all libraries on the same system.

* I took lead in introducing/expanding use of automated check-out to both improve service and reduce demand on staff time. I am also encouraged that there is now a volunteer coordinator to train and oversee volunteers who can help keep the libraries open and functioning. The library will be looking at RFID technology to further automate check-in, check-out, processing, and finding of library items.

* Keep improving on-line services. The library serves as both a gateway to learning and reading and also as a community cultural facility. Some of the functions will go on-line and we have been doing a good job with new databases, on-line reviews, etc.

* We still like to be able to physically browse as well as web-browse, so attractive, up-to-date collections are still essential. How many and what breadth of physical collections we can have around town will be a key question.

* Finally, I would note that the 2004-5 library budget was $5.1 million and increased to $5.6 million in 2005-6. It was the only department in the city besides police and fire to receive a substantial increase. Most departments faced actual decreases. In the citywide 2005-6 budget, we added $4.5 million to our salaries and benefits citywide. Our rising staffing costs, especially benefits cost, is impacting our service delivery and infrastructure investment citywide.

* I would expect we can support only one resource library, not two, at either the Main or Mitchell library site. Perhaps our capital funds are better spent at renovating the other library facilities and expanding one of the resource libraries. Overall, I look forward to an analytically rigorous and thoughtful set of recommendations on how we can re-invent our library services within a limited capital and operating budget.
* I have suggested that we consider looking at the Community Center and Library together to see if we can find more space for students to gather after school to do their homework and socialize.

* Through the city-school liaison committee, we are also talking about ways we can cooperate on library services including after-school usage.

* This should free up some space for the other user groups of library.

* Longer-term, we do need to expand/overhaul the Mitchell Library/Community Center complex to meet rising demand. It is already the busiest library in the system.
* I do not support a reduction in public space per se – no one does. I did vote to support to consider FoPAL’s offer to subsidize a portable facility to accommodate the tech/administrative operations near the Main Library. It seems to make sense overall to keep technical services and administration next to Main. I also note that staff did listen to the public requests to keep both patios accessible and keep open another sunny wing for public use vs. staff use. Staff/technical services space in Mitchell Library is very constrained and it probably is in the rest of the system – we do need to keep their functional needs in mind as well.

* However, the council did vote to uphold the current plan to move. There was also a strong consensus of the council that we would like to keep our branch libraries if at all possible but need to be creative in developing a distributed delivery model. I am open to new ideas for the downtown library.

* We need to set the goal to return Downtown Library to the days when it was a very successful facility that handled up to 16% of the system circulation. Downtown is already a walkable, vibrant, dense and densifying neighborhood and there is no reason why we cannot be successful. That said, the remaining space (unless there is a new proposal that I have not seen) will still be larger than College Terrace library which is very successful. With careful design from staff and consultants and input from the LAC, Friends and the public, we can make the Downtown Library a vibrant success with a temporarily smaller space.
Larry Klein
As a semi outsider to Library issues, I have learned a great deal during this campaign as I have participated in candidates forums and, more importantly, at my own events where more citizen feed back is possible. Two findings stand out: one, at virtually every one of my coffees a Palo Altan not involved in the "library wars" has told me that he/she no longer uses the Palo Alto libraries but instead goes to Mountain View, Los Altos or Menlo Park because of Palo Alto's deteriorated and outmoded facilities; second, a library bond issue would do less well today than it did a few years ago primarily because of increased awareness of the City's budget problems and that a bond issue doesn't cover operating expenses.

At the same time I find our community strongly supports libraries, wants to retain all five libraries, modernize and upgrade Main and Mitchell, but not increase the amount of money spent on libraries . The community also recognizes that these positions are mutually inconsistent and awaits strong leadership to break the log jam. My "poll" is of course unscientific and I await with great interest the results of the user survey but with the caveat that it's only one tool in answering the tough policy choices we as a community must make.

It is highly unusual for a program's adherents to be divided. That makes it difficult to obtain community support for a bond measure or any other form of increased financial support. My first priority would thus be a figurative "lock the interested parties in a room until they reach a consensus" strategy. If at all possible we must have a united front on a policy. If the stake holders can't reach a consensus within a clearly stated period of time then the Council will have to make the tough calls although the likelihood of community support will be diminished.

Given this strategy I don't think the Council (and individual candidates) should state where they would come out lest they tip the balance of the negotiations. I view Council's present "policy" as a stop gap until we truly wrestle with how we're going to restore the health of our libraries.

I appreciate that some may see what I have outlined above as waffling. Since I have taken explicit positions on every other issue raised in this campaign I'm not concerned about that. My over-riding concern is that we get to an action plan that will work to improve our libraries. The existing "plan" won't do it. Posturing won't do it. The strategy I've outlined above may do it.
In general, please see my answer to #1.If there are short term, relatively inexpensive palliative measures to alleviate the crowding I would support them. However, what we really need is the type of plan I describe in my answer to question # 1. No. I would have voted with the minority to seriously consider the Friends' offer of $100, 000 for a portable to avoid the space problem.
Danielle Martell
We should all have neighborhood libraries within walking distance. I do NOT support closing Palo Alto's small libraries to make our big library fancier.
Jack Morton
The Libraries are caught in the "cross fire" of two potentially damaging trends: 1)aged and somewhat neglected facilities and 2) declining City revenues. The initial $100 miilon dollar bond proposal for upgrading all of the Libraries at onceal was too much given the decline in the economy. Even the pared down $49 million dollar bond, although close, did not get the necessary 2/3 vote. The funding for the Children's Library upgrade has thankfully been raised by Library Foundation along with a matching grant from the City (for which I was happy to make the motion both at the finance committee and at the Council) Now, I think, it is timely to go back to the voters for a smaller bond measure to rebuild the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center (which share the same site and have to be upgraded together).

The City Council (with my whole hearted concurence) has very clearly indicated its intention to maintain a distributive library system in which neighborhood libraries are more than book pick up and drop off sites. Unless voters were to approve a bond measure for Mitchel Park which included supplemental operational funding as in Berkeley, annual operational funds will continue to be subject to the vagaries of the budget process. The City Manager and the Council have committed to maintaining the current level of library funding and have been able to hold to that committment for the last two budget cycles. There will be continued budget pressure but the Libraries were the only community service that did not get cut in the last budget cycle and hopefully that protection will continue.
While there may be some minor improvement from reconfigering the space, in the long run the only solution to the level of overcrowding that Mitchell Park now experiences is to ask the community to pass a bond measure that would fund a new and larger library and recreation facility on the site. The well thought-out design that was reviously proposed would be almost ready to open had the last bond measure passed. Now that the Library Foundation with a matching Grant from the City has successfully funded upgrade of the Children's Library, I think the community will support a bond measure for the rebuilding of Mitchell. I supported the temporary transfer of some administrative functions from Main to the Downtown Library for the duration of the Children;s Library upgrade. When the portion of the children's collection that has been transfered to Main returns after construction, staff has given public assurences that the admin functions will return to Main.

Notes: The Friends of the Palo Alto Library initiated the Children's Library renovation and expansion project and has raised over $510,000 for the project.  A candidate statement above refers to the space reduction in the Downtown Library as lasting only until the Children's Library is completed, although library staff has said the reduction is effectively permanent (see Palo Alto Weekly article).

Friends of the Palo Alto Library (FOPAL) is a non-profit 501(c)3 public benefit corporation, dedicated to helping Palo Alto's Public Libraries.  Contact us at info@friendspaloaltolib.org or PO Box 41, Palo Alto, CA 94302-0041.  Privacy Policy

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