The City of Berkeley has agreed to settle part of the lawsuit brought by Concerned Library Users (CLU) regarding inadequate environmental review of an ordinance facilitating public library demolitions.
In July, the City adopted an ordinance providing that a use permit rather than the currently-required variance would suffice to alter or demolish any of its public libraries. The pending CLU lawsuit challenges the City’s refusal to conduct environmental review as requested before adopting the ordinance. Removal of the Variance requirement makes it easier to demolish historic library buildings, and CLU pointed out that state law requires the environmental impacts of such action to be studied in an environmental impact report.
The City Council has agreed to repeal the ordinance and has made a commitment to prepare an EIR before reconsidering it. This is exactly what was sought in the CLU lawsuit.
The settlement acknowledges “that environmental review as requested in the first cause of action will be beneficial, because it will analyze the potential environmental effects and alternatives to an ordinance that would allow demolition of a City library on the basis of a use permit rather than a variance. The City intends to fully consider any such ordinance only after being informed by the results of said review.”
The City’s repeal of the variance ordinance affects its consideration of the proposed demolitions of the West and South branch libraries. The City will fully study the environmental impacts of the ordinance in an EIR before reconsidering it. CLU has in turn agreed that the City may allow pending rehabilitation plans for the Claremont and North branch libraries to proceed, although their passage wasalso dependent on the ordinance in question.
“The members of CLU care about the future of our libraries and their programs. We appreciate the City Council’s acknowledgement of the merit of our > legal action and believe that the City’s upcoming compliance with environmental laws will benefit all residents,” said CLU spokesperson Dr. Judith Epstein.
A second part of the lawsuit, involving the City's plan to divert Measure FF funds (earmarked for the rehabilitation of its libraries) for projects involving demolition of the West and South branches, remains pending, but settlement discussions continue.