Public Comment

Public Concerns Brushed Aside as Berkeley City Council Approves Claremont Branch Renovation Contract With No Questions Answered, No Discussion

By Peter Warfield
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 01:39:00 PM

Berkeley’s City Council voted last night, March 29, 2011, to award a contract valued at up to $3.3 million for a Claremont Branch Library renovation that will degrade library service to the public there for a generation or more, substantially reducing shelving for books and materials, decreasing floor space for the public, eliminating the current separate reference desks for children and adults that are apart from a busy circulation desk, and other changes. The vote was unanimous as part of the consent calendar. 

The contract goes to Fine Line Construction, and the bid protest of BHM Construction was rejected as part of Council’s action on Agenda Item 4. 

In part through a parliamentary maneuver that confused several members of the public, the item was left on the consent calendar, where it would pass without discussion or questions, along with other items considered too routine to take up separately. At least one member of the public, Dean Metzger, said he would have joined others speaking in favor of pulling the item from the consent calendar had he understood that the mayor was leaving it on, saying he thought the mayor said the item would be taken off.  

Council member Jesse Arreguin asked questions about the planned schedule, which the mayor asked him to take ‘off-line’ even though the Director of Library Services, Donna Corbeil, was present and could easily have answered such questions. I also spoke about the item, requesting that it be pulled from the consent calendar for full discussion by the council, so that at least questions could be asked about the significant impacts of the planned changes, and I read portions of a letter (see below) that highlights important issues. A man who did not give his name, and said he lives six or seven blocks from the branch, spoke of his enjoyment of the branch since childhood and asked that the item be pulled. Linda Schacht, who heads Berkeley Public Library Foundation’s branch fundraising campaign, spoke in opposition to pulling the item. 

Consent calendar rules of the City Council state: “In the event that there are more than three persons wishing to speak either in opposition to or support of a ‘Consent’ item, the Presiding Officer will move the item to the beginning of the Action Calendar.” Counting Dean Metzger, there were at least four members of the audience willing to speak about the item, yet it was left on the consent calendar,. 

In addition to reading portions of the letter below, I said that the concerns are not last-minute, but were raised beginning in May, 2010 via Commentaries in the Berkeley Daily Planet in a series of more than half a dozen published articles written by several writers. I also said that other members of the public have raised one or more of the issues mentioned in the letter at meetings of the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) and in other documented public meetings. 

Honorable Members 

BerkeleyCity Council 

City Hall 

Berkeley, CA 

Delivered by hand at Council Meeting 

Subject: Concerns: Claremont Branch Renovation Contract, Item 4 Tonight 

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

We advocate for better libraries for all -- and are very concerned that future generations of library users, and the current one, will be shocked if they find that your body approved -- or did not at least ask questions about -- tonight’s agenda item 4, awarding a contract to renovate Claremont Branch Library and thereby proceed with a some very problematic degradations of service to the public. 

What your approval of the contract would mean:  

1. A huge reduction in shelving for books and materials. 

While our efforts and those of others eventually resulted in smaller cuts, the library’s own figures show that the library intended to cut 913 linear feet of shelving for books and materials -- see Board of Library Trustees agenda packet enclosure of May 12, 2011. The library eventually cut the reduction to 819 linear feet, according to the agenda packet of July 14, 2010, while the Library Services Director Donna Corbeil stated in a memo at the same meeting that the cut would be 574 linear feet. However, Ms. Corbeil provided no breakdown of cuts by area, e.g. Adult, Teens, Children.  

The library has stated that the existing branch has 4,027 linear feet of shelving, so these plans represent very substantial cuts. 

Question: What will the shelving cut be, and where is the detail documented? 

2. A reduction in floor space for the public. 

A memo from the Planning Department last summer revealed that the floor space usable by the public would actually be reduced. The Planning Department made the calculation in order to know whether any increase might require additional parking space under existing zoning codes. The loss would occur despite an increase of more than 300 square feet in the planned renovations. 

Question: What does the library say the public floor space cut will be? 

3. Elimination of free-standing reference desks. 

The library plans to eliminate the cozy adult and children’s reference desks now in the branch, that are separate from each other and apart from the circulation desk. The reference function, we are told, will be moved to the circulation desk where there is more noise and distraction, in downgrading of reference service. The library’s Program document, dated January, 2010, calls for encouraging reference librarians to roam about the library. 

Question: How will children’s and adult reference librarian service be provided? 

4. Privatization -- Including Donor Names on Spaces and Equipment 

In a place funded overwhelmingly by the public, via annual taxes and Measure FF (2008), the Berkeley Public Library Foundation plans to post donor names on a variety of equipment and spaces, where such names were never found before. Bigger donations get presumably more important placement, and Berkeley’s library users learn that money talks even in a place that once provided free and equal access to all, without any sign of the influence of private money. 


We ask you to consider this approval carefully, and at the very least ask questions that would put the library on record as to its intentions with this renovation. Much of this information has only been provided in documents that have not been generally provided to the public -- and in fact, much of this information is unknown to the public because the library’s publicity has omitted it. Will you really vote to spend millions of dollars on a library renovation that reduces space for books and materials, reduces publicly usable space, and provides other problematic changes? Please consider at least asking some of the questions suggested. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely yours, 

Peter Warfield 

Executive Director 

Library Users Association 


Enclosure: Item 4 from today’s City Council meeting Agenda: 


4. Contract: Reject the Bid Protest of BHM Construction, Inc. and Award of Contract to Fine Line Construction for Renovation and Construction of the Claremont Branch Library (PDF) 

From: City Manager 

Recommendation:Adopt a Resolution: 

1. Approving plans and specifications for the Berkeley Public Library Claremont Branch Improvement Project; 

2. Rejecting the Bid Protest of BHM Construction, Inc.; 

3. Accepting the bid of Fine Line Construction; and 

4. Authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract, amendments, and any extensions or change orders until completion of the project in an amount not to exceed $3,300,000 which includes a contingency of approximately 11%. 

Financial Implications:See report 

Contact: Donna Corbeil, Library, 981-6100