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Will there be enough money to finish San Diego's dream library?

November 1, 2011 1:13 p.m.

GUESTS:

Mel Katz, Chair San Diego Public Library Foundation

Vlad Kogan, UC San Diego graduate, Political Science Dept, co-author Paradise Plundered

Related Story: Will There Be Enough Money To Finish San Diego's Dream Library?

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: The new downtown library that has long been a dream of San Diego City visionaries is rising up on the corner of park boulevard and J street. The question now is, will there be enough money to continue the construction? The San Diego library foundation has to deliver $32.5 million in donations by the end of the year to pay for the second phase of construction. Right now, the foundation is about $25 million short of that goal. I'd hike to welcome my guest, Mel Katz, he is chair of the San Diego library foundation. Welcome back to the program.

KATZ: Thank you. It's great to be back.

CAVANAUGH: Now, let's break down the money that you're raising because I know that you have some in pledged funds, some in perspective funds. How much do you have of both?

KATZ: It's so interesting when you take a look at the project today, it's out of the ground, and people can actually see that this is going to be San Diego's new central library. So we have had more interest in this project in the last six months than we did since groundbreaking and groundbreaking was August, 2010. So so far we've raised $7 million of the 32.5 we need, and we have 48 different people that we have taken on tours that we're still talking to that conservatively, we think we're going to get another 15 million from. And none of those people are the main naming people. So we're not talking about the name on the libraries, the 20 million or the reading room for 10 million, or the lobby for 10 million. This is 15 million that we feel conservatively is going to be added to the 7 million.

CAVANAUGH: Now, how are you going about fundraising at this time? Is it largely tours of the construction site?

KATZ: It's talking to different potential donors, taking them on tours, and talking about the project. We tend to talk about this great building, and what this building is going to mean for San Diego. It's really about the people that use this building, and how exciting this is for the people. We have a career center in this new building. It's a technology center where people can go and get on the Internet with all their computers or with our computers. So when people start hearing that everything in this building is free, plus the amazing librarians we have in this building, all of a sudden, the light goes on, and it's, like, I want to be part of this project

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, when people do tour the facility at this time, what is it that they can actually see? What's up already?

KATZ: We have two floors of underground parking for 250 cars. And of the ten floors, we have six floors already completed. So we put people in hard hats and those orange vests, and we take them right inside. They can go in right now and stand and look up at the 3-story lobby. The lobby is three stories, and when we take them in there, and they can see that, we ten can show them and tell them that this is the exact size of the glass reading room that's going to be on top of the library. So when you think that we're going to have a 3-story glass reading room that we're going to have over 1,200 seats for people to sit and read in, people are so impressed. Really, I don't think anyone realizes how massive and how great this project is going to be for San Diego

CAVANAUGH: Now, as we're speak, it's November 1st, and by your own calculations, even if each. Those perspective dollars come in, you've raised about 22 million, and your goal is 32.5. In fact, what you have to raise is 32.5. Why are you hitting this crunch? Why has it taken so long to get this money to come in for -- as you're describing this beautiful new facility?

KATZ: It's so funny. The last time I came in to talk to you was right after groundbreaking, and all the excitement. But right before that, before the City Council voted, you and I sat here and had this same conversation, are and the nay sayers were out there saying this project would never happen. Well, this project did happen. The City Council voted 6-2 to go forward with this project. And when you look at the money that we raised privately for the first phase, we raised over $42 million. And two gifts came to 64%. If we get two gifts of the 32.5 million at 64%, be that's $20 million. Naming opportunities for this building is $20 million

CAVANAUGH: I see. But why -- my question was why are we getting it to crunch time here? Why aren't you already sitting here saying oh, we have so much money? Where did the don't -- donations fall off?

KATZ: No, in fundraising, and if you talk to anyone who does fundraising, it's a long cycle. And it's showing someone the project, it's then talking to them about the project, it's talking to them about the naming opportunities, it's them going back and talking to their family and estate planning. So it really -- it's a very long cycle. That's why in most fundraising projects, they don't go public until they have 50% of the amounts raised. In our case, this is a public project, so everything is out there in the open.

CAVANAUGH: Let me introduce my second guest, Vlad Kogan is a UCSD graduate in political science, and co-author of the new book, Paradise Plundered. Welcome to the show

KOGAN: Thanks for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: In your book, you talk about the way money for civic projects gets cobbled together in San Diego. How does this situation with the downtown library in your opinion stack up against that history?

KOGAN: In many ways, this project is emblematic of the way we go about building huge things in San Diego. This project has been on the books for about 20 years, and the struggle during that entire 20-year period is that San Diegans have not wanted to pay for it. You know, if you talk to people about the general idea of having a new downtown library, people are in favor. But as soon as you ask them to actually raise taxes to pay for it, or you ask them, would you rather use current money to pay for this new library rather than your neighborhood grant, people's opinion changes dramatically. Over a 20-year period, the struggle is to find a way to pay for this project without actually asking constituents to contribute more. So the strategy that we're using, I think it is one where we've found some private founding, and it's going to be a question to see to what extent the necessary funds are realized, then we also use some other public funding that does not directly or at least transparently affect the service levels people experience

CAVANAUGH: Mel, what happens if you don't raise the whole 32.5 million by early next year?

KATZ: We really have all the confidence that we're going to raise it. And come January, we're going to have that money raised, and really, you're going to see that we're going to be surrounded by all these people who are going to celebrate our success. And hopefully, the critics will also be on board and will be congratulating us. And more than us, congratulating the donors in San Diego who have come forward because they know the importance of a library

CAVANAUGH: I know that this question is tough for you because you believe in this project so much and you know in your heart that you're going to be raising this money. But what if, what if it doesn't happen? What actually happens? Does construction stop?

KATZ: Right now, we raised enough money for the first phase. And the first phase is for the library core and for the shell of the building. And if by any chance, which will not happen, we do not raise the 32.5 million, once that money runs out, we would have to stop. And we will continue to raise the 32.5. But Maureen, I have been confident on this and optimistic on this from the day one, and we will raise it. And by the end of this year, we will have as big of a celebration as we had for groundbreaking. And if you remember groundbreaking, people were so excited that finally a big project in San Diego was getting done. And that this was the big project that was getting done, and it's a project for all people.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Vlad, you just heard Mel, he's supremely confident in the fact that this donated money is going to come in in time so construction doesn't stop. Let's look at it from another viewpoint. Hasn't the city already invested enough money, let's put it this way, so that this project just simply has to be completed?

KOGAN: Well, I think you highlight the critical part of the subject. We as a city have really decided to take Mel's word for it, that he's going to succeed in raising the money. And he's an incredibly successful fundraiser. So I have no doubt that he's going to try very hard and do very well. But the question is what's going to happen if he doesn't success succeed? And the reality is that the City of San Diego as you point out has already invested a significant amount of public dollars. So the question is going to be, do we change the project, cut back some of the plans, cut back some of the fantastic features that Mel has talked about? Hoar do we take money from some place else? Do we find other programs to find the money we need to pay for this? And the other critical issue that you haven't touched upon yet is -- building the project is only the first phase. Then you actually have to operate it. So this central branch is going to be bigger than the previous one, it's going to require higher operation costs. So my understanding is that Mel has also been working to raise some private funding to pay for those extra costs as well. But going into the future, the question is how are we going to pay to maintain and operate? Branch given the budget problems we face? During the last ten years, we've dramatically cut back hours at all the branch libraries, which are used by far more people than the central library. So the question is, is this really a prudent investment for us as a city? Or should we be using whatever money we have, should we be using whatever private financing and private support we can find to support this project rather than try to restore services at some of the other branch libraries that have been hit very hard by the significant budget cut we've seen over the last decade?

CAVANAUGH: Well, in a way, that decision has already been made by the San Diego City Council. The new downtown library is going up was. And what about those maintenance cost, Mel? Is the foundation basically going to have to Augustment the running of this library into the foreseeable future?

KATZ: We've made a commitment, and we made it when the City Council voted, and we have stayed with that commitment that no general fund dollars will be used in this project. So the running of our branch libraries come out of the general fund. This new library is going to cost $2.7 million a year more to run than our current library. And we have raised already $2 million a year from two families, so a million each for the first 5 years. Of so for the first 5 years, through 2019, we have 2 million of the 2.7. The other 700,000 comes from parking, from the cafe, are and the book store. So we will not be going into the general fund for this project. For the first FIVE years at least, we will continue then to raise more operation dollars. And when he painted the picture of what would end up happening, we would either have to take money from the city to finish this project or stop construction, that is not an option. Upon we're not going to cut back this project, and we're not going to take money from the city. It's a pledge that we made, and that's why I'm so optimistic that we are going to raise that $32.5 million

CAVANAUGH: Vlad, that sounds a little -- this whole way of putting together denations and so forth for big downtown public libraries sounds a little funny when you compare it against the way some other cities do business. I mean, aren't these civic projects supposed to be paid for by the city?

KOGAN: That's a great point. But to put this in perspective, we're a city of more than a million people, one of the largest cities in the country. And we're building this project based on a pledge from a private group. And the question is, is this a good way to make public policy, and is this a sustainable way to make public policy? And I'm certainly not suggesting that Mel doesn't have every intention and he's not going to work the hardest he can to raise the money. But the question is, should the taxpayers face the risk and bear the risk of this pledge not being fulfilled? And more broadly, is this really the way we as a city want to finance these big public investments? After all, this is a public library. This is a resource for the citizens. And if so, is financing it and paying for it by relying on the good will of a small number of a few wealthy people in the city the best way to do it? And more broadly, is this the main priority that we as a city should have? And should our priority be set by the priorities of the people who are willing to put up the money, or should we as a city come together and decide what we think is more important? Is it the central branch library? Restoring hours at the neighborhood libraries? Or is it restoring hours at recreation centers? And all the other many, many other public services that San Diegans care about.

KATZ: And V lad, and correct. All of those things he just named, we definitely need in the city. We need many more library hours. Our branches are fantastic, and we should be supporting them. We need park and rec hours. His question of is this how we should have gone about paying for it or should we have gone to the taxpayers and asked for more money is completely different. And that's a question we should and we could be addressing. But the taxpayers and the public are not at risk on this project. It's 100 and $85 million project, and of that hundred and 85 million, 62 million of it is from the private sector. The is from the public, meaning the redevelopment agency, the school district, and the state bond measure. So when you look at it, this really is a public/private partnership. And this public/private partnership is really going to be giving an unbelievable asset to all of San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: And I just want to remind people that money from the school district is because there is a school that's going to be part of this new downtown library.

KATZ: Correct. On floors 6 and 7 of this building with its own separate entrance, with its own separate elevators, we're going to have a high school with over 500 students in it

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Mel, are you going to be going crazy between now and the end of the year trying to raise money for this project?

KATZ: It has taken -- and you know, I'm up here, and I'm talking about it, we have a foundation board of 17 people, be we have unbelievable advisory board, you know, led by Joan and Erwin Jacobs, and it's not just me. So I'm the one that either is going to get the credit for it, when it succeeds. So in January people are going to say, Mel, you did a great job. It's not me. It's this foundation board, and we have been doing this almost daily, taking people on tours, talking to people, and every one of these people that are involved in it, this foundation board, the advisory board, are the ones that should be congratulated, along with the donors who've already come forward

CAVANAUGH: You talk about naming rights. What are the kinds of things that can be named in this building? Did the library itself, and the school?

KATZ: Yeah. For your name to be on the building, Maureen Cavanaugh central library

CAVANAUGH: I don't think that's going to happen.

KATZ: $20 million. Of the lobby, $10 million. The reading room on top of it, $10 million. Of the auditorium, $15 million. But then it goes all the way down to $25,000 for study corrals, and once we finish this in January, we're going out to the public and every person in the public can have an ownership of this library. We're going to have pavers, and we're going to have names etched on windows. There's going to be so many opportunities on all different levels

CAVANAUGH: We'll have to have you back in January to tell us about it.

KATZ: We'll have champagne at the table right here

CAVANAUGH: Okay. I've been speaking with Mel Katz, she's chair of the San Diego library foundation. And Vlad Kogan, author of the new back about San Diego called paradise plundered. Thank you so much

KATZ: Thank you Maureen

KOGAN: Thanks for having me.