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San Diego’s Downtown Library: Is It Now Or Never?

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Aired 11/5/09

The San Diego City Council has voted to send construction of a new downtown central library out for bids. We look at why (and whether) a viable, robust central library is necessary, what it would cost, if the city can afford it and if now is the right time to go ahead with it.

The San Diego Downtown Library is the subject of great debate as city councilmembers consider whether or not to build a new central library.
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Above: The San Diego Downtown Library is the subject of great debate as city councilmembers consider whether or not to build a new central library.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The on-again, off-again plan to build a new central library in downtown San Diego is apparently on again. Last week, the San Diego City Council voted to spend a half million dollars to open the bidding process for construction of a new library complex between Park Boulevard, 11th annual – Avenue, that is, and J and K Streets. If it seems like San Diego leaders have been talking for a long time about building a new library downtown, you are absolutely right. Discussion about a new central library began about three decades ago. In fact, the project got very close to getting off the ground a few years ago but was sidetracked by the city’s bad credit rating and bond market problems. Now supporters are trying again, saying the recession may bring construction costs down and building a new library will create much needed jobs. But opponents say during these times of record budget deficits, San Diego should not be spending any money on a new library. We have a longtime supporter of a new main library for San Diego and we’ll also be speaking with one of the project’s most outspoken critics as guests this morning. I’d like to welcome Mel Katz. He’s vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. Mel, welcome to These Days.

MEL KATZ (Vice Chair, San Diego Public Library Foundation): Good morning. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: We will be speaking to San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio. He is in transit so he’ll either be here or on the phone. And also here is KPBS senior metro reporter Alison St John. Good morning, Alison.

ALISON ST JOHN (Senior Metro Reporter, KPBS): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you think building a new library complex downtown would benefit San Diego? Or do you think this is a bad time for the project? Give us a call with your questions and comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. I’d like to start with you, Alison. I know that you’ve been covering this downtown library project for quite some time and…

ST JOHN: Not thirty years.

CAVANAUGH: No, no, certainly not.

ST JOHN: So…

CAVANAUGH: But, you know, it seems like…

ST JOHN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …the new airport. I mean, we’ve been hearing about it for years and years and years and it never seems to happen and why is that?

ST JOHN: Why is that? Well, I guess it comes down to priorities and money, obviously. You know, the fact that it’s still being talked about for – after 30 years means that it’s something that a lot of people see as being a very important civic project. But other priorities must’ve gotten in the way. For example, we now have a ballpark but we don’t have a library. So, you know, when you have a city with restricted resources, the question is how strong a desire is there for that particular civic project, bearing in mind that money is always tight.

CAVANAUGH: Now I wonder if you could describe, for the listeners, what this proposed library complex consists of now. I mean, what are people talking about that this library may look like when, and if, it’s built.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm. Well, it’s a wonderful iconic structure designed by Rob Quigley, who is an architect who’s designed a lot of very creative things. Has this amazing dome that would stand out, that would be visible. And it is a lot of glass, a lot of open space, a very contemporary building, something that San Diego could be proud of, an icon. And one of the things actually that has apparently happened in the last three years since the project got bypassed was that it looks again like it might be possible to have that dome covered with solar-type panels, something which had to be cut out three years ago when they were talking about cost cutting, and now it seems like that might be an element of it. So it’s an environmentally friendly building, it’s a beautiful building, and I think it would be more than just a library. It would actually be a civic landmark.

CAVANAUGH: And it is – The complex does include more than just a library. Isn’t there a school involved in – and – and what else?

ST JOHN: Yes, well, that’s interesting because the idea of the school, of course, just got added fairly recently in the sense that the school district has some money to build schools and so some of that money would go to putting a charter school on a couple of the floors in the middle of the library. People have said, well, goodness, you couldn’t have school kids kind of running, shouting along the corridors of the library. But the perfection of it is that actually the way Rob Quigley designed it was to have two floors in the middle of the building that could be used for city offices. Originally, when he designed it, he was asked, you know, make some space so that we can move some city offices in there if we need to. And now that turns out to be perfect because those two floors in the middle of the library were designed specifically to be self-contained with separate entrances. They’re part of the building and obviously very accessible to the library but they’re designed to be separate.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Now the reason that we’re talking about it right now is because the San Diego City Council voted last week, just last week, to spend $500,000 to put out new bids and some people are questioning is now the right time to do something like that? When times are bad and services are being cut, why did the city council decide to do this now?

ST JOHN: Well, they’re under pressure from the state. The state has effectively kept this thing bubbling along by saying we’ll give you $20 million but you have to get moving. You know, we’ll withdraw that, we’ll pull that off the table unless we see some signs of progress. So they pretty much had to take the next step. And the next step is an interesting one because, you know, already there has been an estimate of how much it would cost, $185 million, but now the company that is doing the construction has to actually go out and get the nitty-gritty bids from the subcontractors on the street and come up with a figure that it can say to the city it will not cost more than this. So this is an interesting point because then the city council will be able to say, all right, if it does cost more than that, we are not liable, it’s the construction company. So it’ll give them a really good hard and fast number to be working with.

CAVANAUGH: And how did that vote go on the city council?

ST JOHN: Six-to-two. Yes, we had Carl DeMaio, who is against it, who is someone who is, you know, very in favor of fiscal conservatism and says that the money, including some of the money that the CCDC, the development arm of the city, has pledged should go to the other projects like perhaps, you know, a downtown – a new downtown civic center. But the other person who voted against it was perhaps more of a surprise, was Sherri Lightner. Like everyone else, she really supports the library but she is very, very concerned about the deficit, and she said this is not the time to go ahead with this project.

CAVANAUGH: So if I understand you then, the next step is actually getting these bids and then taking a final vote as to whether or not to go along with the construction or not?

ST JOHN: Well, Maureen, it looks like the next vote might be the vote that would be, you know, yes, we’re going to go ahead, or no. And that vote will probably come time late spring of next year once they’ve got this bid. So, you know, we’ve been sort of spinning our wheels, saying yes, maybe, probably, but it looks like next year we might actually hear for sure the city council might actually get a chance to vote on whether they think that this is feasible. And what I think is interesting is that before you get that vote, there’s an opportunity to really do some jockeying for where is that money going to come from. So, in a way, right now is – Turner has the chance to go out and try and get low bids without compromising the design. Mel Katz, here, has the chance to go out and say to people, look, you know, we’ve got to get this vote. We’ve got to show them that the community supports this. So this is sort of, you know, up against it, the point at which the money’s got to come out of the woodwork.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Alison, and I want to bring Mel into this as well, because I want to talk about money for a minute. So the estimated cost at least in 2005 when the last bid or estimate was made was $185 million. Where is that money coming from? I want to start with you, Alison.

ST JOHN: Oh, just…

CAVANAUGH: Break it down. Where is that money coming from?

ST JOHN: So there’s the $20 million from the state, then there’s $80 million that CCDC, the city’s redevelopment arm, has pledged, of which more than $10 million has already gone, so there’s $60-plus million left of that pledge. And then there’s $20 million from the school district, which had a bond measure that they can also add to it as long as they have a school on the middle two floors. So we’re still almost $50 million short, $40-plus short. And that is one of the questions. Where is that going to come from? And I know there are definitely some city council members who say we’d love to vote for this but we cannot pledge any more city money.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, Mel Katz, let me reintroduce you. You are vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. Where is the rest of that money coming from?

KATZ: And Alison did a great job talking about the project and that we have $80 million from CCDC, we have $20 million from the state, $20 million from the school district. We already have $27 and a half million from private individuals, so basically we have $147 and a half million. We’ve never put the project out to bid before so what we’ve always had is an estimate, and this is going to be the first time we really find out how much this project’s going to cost. And Alison mentioned a key part of this project is they’re going to – Turner Construction, who’s the construction manager, is going to come back with a guaranteed maximum price. And based on that price, they are going to be the construction manager at risk. So when that happens, anything that goes over that guaranteed maximum price, Turner Construction is responsible for. So the city will not be liable for any more money. Now in the estimate that we had before, $145 million was hard construction costs. If you add the numbers together that we just went over, that’s $147 and a half. It’s always been determined that during the three years it’s going to take to build this building, we at the Library Foundation, would raise the remaining money. So the remaining money is $36 million. And we’ve even pledged to the city council that we would do $12 million by the time they have that next decision point, which is to put it out to start construction, $12 million for when the shell is done, which is January of 2012, and then $12 million when the project is done, which is January of 2013.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’ll tell you, we are still waiting for the arrival of San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio. There are so many people who want to talk to us about this. Let me take a phone call. Jan is calling from downtown. Good morning, Jan, and welcome to These Days.

JAN (Caller, Downtown San Diego): Good morning. Excuse my voice. I have a little bit of a cold. I came to San Diego in 1967 to teach and I thought the library, downtown library, was pretty old and inadequate then. The location where it will be, and I live quite close to that, you have the bus stop right on 11th and you have the trolley that’s right on 12th, which is now Park. And it just will – As you’ve already mentioned, that $20 million from the state goes away. It doesn’t go to fill potholes or anything else. If we do not move forward, we simply lose that money as well as many of the private donors. And the main library is actually beneficial to the outlying ones because it’s like the mother ship, it’s like the information source. And, of course, it’ll also put tons of people to work. We have the design, is done, the permitting is done, the lot is ready, and let’s put the shelves in the ground and move it forward.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Jan certainly supports the downtown library. I think she made the case very well. And I want to thank you for that call, Jan. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, and San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio is here to join the conversation. We’re going to take a quick break, an early break to allow him to sit down, catch his breath, and when we return, we will continue our conversation about a new downtown central library in San Diego. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS, and we are talking about the plan to build a new central library in downtown San Diego, whether this is the right time to start reviving that plan. The San Diego City Council has voted to spend a half million dollars to open up the bidding process for construction of the new library complex. And we’re getting arguments for and against that idea right here on These Days this morning. I’d like to welcome back Mel Katz. He’s vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. Also here, KPBS metro reporter Alison St John. And a big welcome to San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio who is here joining us now. I want to…

CARL DEMAIO (San Diego City Council Member): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Good morning. I want to let our listeners know, 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call to join the conversation. Now, Councilman DeMaio, while we – while you weren’t here, we laid out the fundamentals. I think some fundamental arguments of why this is a good time to start the library project. And I want to give you the opportunity to state what are your fundamental objections to starting the library project now.

DEMAIO: Sure. Now, first of all, I think everyone would love to build a new downtown library but the question becomes can we afford it given our budget deficit and the debt that we are carrying for other obligations like pension and retiree healthcare. And second of all, what is the concept of a 21st century library system particularly at a time when you see our branch libraries throughout the city falling in disrepair, not having adequate computers and access to online services and, more importantly, their physical infrastructure in our branches are falling apart. We also see their hours being cut back. Branch library hours have been cut back throughout the city of San Diego by 20% since 2002. In my district, Mira Mesa Library has been cut back by 35%. We’re losing our core branch library system, and I have a vision for a library system in the city of San Diego that is based on our branches. Our branches provide key services to our neighborhoods and they provide much needed safe zones for our kids to go after school. We are not talking about warehouses for books, we’re talking about access points in our community, in our neighborhoods, to the internet, to research assistance, and, frankly, in this era where kids could get in trouble after school, to some adult supervision. These branch libraries are the foundation of quality neighborhoods. Anything that sacrifices our branch libraries is something that we should resist. Now that brings me to the downtown library. We don’t have the money to build it, and it’s very clear. Now, people keep saying, oh, but the construction estimates might come in lower, oh, give us some more time, we’ll raise the money. The reality is, and I respect the work Mel and his colleagues at the foundation have done and I really appreciate the fact that we do have a foundation that supports our libraries, the reality is they’ve had since well before 2002 to raise this money. They’ve fallen short. And the challenges that we have is that even if they do raise the money that they’re promising—and that’s a big if—we have obligations that we need to use the other funds for. For example, the $63 million dollars in redevelopment monies can and should be reprogrammed to satisfy obligations currently satisfied by the general fund. That provides $63 million for police, fire, roads and, yes, branch libraries. So my opposition is based on…

CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you there, if I may.

DEMAIO: …those concerns.

CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you, if I may, I do want to take a phone call that is right on the subject of the branches, the concept of spending more money on branch libraries than building a downtown one. Before I take the call, though, I do want to get your reaction to that specific point. Why not just invest more money into the branches?

KATZ: What Carl just brought up, you know, it’s not a choice of branches or a new central library. The Library Foundation supports the library system. We have a new branch that’s opening up at the end of the year in Logan Heights. It’s a new 25,000 square foot branch that’s going to take the place of a 4,000 square foot branch. We love the branches. They are the heart of every community. This, you know, we – As a person who works here in this community, who lives here in this community, I want the city to be on strong financial footing. I want the city to have a balanced budget. That’s not at issue right now. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We can build a new central library without going into any of the city’s general fund. So it’s not going to cost the city any money, it’s no new taxes, and it’s no new bonding.

DEMAIO: And that’s simply not true. And when you look at the $63 million coming from the redevelopment agency, it is very clear that if we use that money for the library, we will have to satisfy debt obligations for things like Petco Park in five years, convention center. What my proposal is to do is to put the $63 million from the redevelopment agency into the general fund to satisfy those obligations and save our branch libraries.

CAVANAUGH: I want to…

KATZ: Now…

DEMAIO: What Mr. Katz won’t tell you…

CAVANAUGH: I want to stop you. I have to stop you, sir.

KATZ: Now, Maureen…

CAVANAUGH: I want to take this call on the branches. Okay? Our callers want to join the conversation. Ela is calling from Rancho Penasquitos. Good morning, Ela, and welcome to These Days.

EILA (Caller, Rancho Penasquitos): Hi. It’s actually Eila…

CAVANAUGH: Eila.

EILA: …and thank you for taking my call. I just have to say I have three children. I’ve been raising them in San Diego for the last 20 years. And we are in and out of our branch library as much as we possibly can. The only thing that limits us from getting into that branch library is the fact that it is closed more often than it’s open and that the amount of new materials that the libraries are able to purchase is miniscule. I’m constantly having my children check to see if it’s on the library, and then ordering it from Amazon because the libraries just don’t have the budgets to keep up with the new material that my children want to read. I appreciate both sides of the fiscal elements that, you know, it brings new jobs. I love the fact that we would have, you know, a wonderful new landmark. I love Quigley’s designs in general. I’ve been following this, you know, for 20-some years, this argument. But I have to say they’re arguing the wrong elements. The issue now isn’t the money so much as what would a central branch library bring to the whole process? Technology and information systems has changed the way that we operate…

CAVANAUGH: Got it.

EILA: …including information.

CAVANAUGH: Eila, I want to ask that to Mel. Thank you so much. That was my next question, Mel. The whole concept of whether or not the concept of a central library is becoming outdated, that our technology is moving forward at such a rate that perhaps the idea of having a big, beautiful downtown library, even if it’s filled with technology, is sort of not keeping up with the times.

KATZ: I’ll give you a fun number. When the new – when the central library was first built, which was 55 years ago, the population in San Diego was 334,000 people. Last year 600,000 people went to our downtown central library, our small, inadequate library. Two-thirds of our collection is in the basement. What you have a library – You know, this new library, instead of 80 computers where people are waiting in line to use, we’re going to have 400 computers. The entire library will be wired. The collection, 1.3 million volumes, CDs, DVDs, will be out there to go and browse through and to do research with. And when you’re going into a shelf and you’re looking for one book and all of a sudden you see other books, that’s what ends up happening. It’s a place of continuous learning. It’s going to be a community center, it’s going to be a place to go for lectures, it’s going to be a place to go for concerts. It’s going to be a safe place to go to get your homework done. And it’s going to have experts in there to help you navigate through the internet.

CAVANAUGH: I’d like your reaction.

DEMAIO: You know, again, it would be wonderful if we had the money to build it but this conversation, and like many conversations in San Diego, is like a family that is underwater in its mortgage, can’t even afford its mortgage saying, hey, well, let’s get a cost estimate on putting in a pool and putting on a new addition to the house. Wouldn’t it look wonderful? Wouldn’t it be fun? Wouldn’t our life be great if we had all these new amenities in the house? Well, yeah, it would be nice but the reality is you’re broke and you’re going to lose your house if you don’t tighten the belt. We are going to lose our branches. And this is what I want the viewers to – the listeners to do. I want you to circle on your calendar in your daybook December 15th. And if you think that our branch libraries aren’t going to suffer in this budget process, then you have another thing (sic) coming for you. You’re going to have a branch library shutdown and cutback in this budget, and that’s why my proposal is to save our branch libraries by transferring the $63 million currently held hostage by this project from the redevelopment agency back to the general fund using the mechanisms that I laid out.

KATZ: No.

CAVANAUGH: Mel.

KATZ: Now, Carl knows that $147 and a half million that we’ve raised can not be used for anything to do with our branch libraries.

DEMAIO: That’s absolutely not true, Mel. Actually…

KATZ: And – and Carl has brought up now three times…

DEMAIO: …we have laid it out…

KATZ: …$63 million and…

DEMAIO: Exactly.

KATZ: …how to take the $63 million and use it for debt payments from Petco and for the convention center.

DEMAIO: And that frees up…

KATZ: The cheap – the cheap oper…

DEMAIO: …frees up $63 million in the general fund. This is something that’s been done by the general fund for the past three years on Petco Park.

CAVANAUGH: You submitted this suggestion…

DEMAIO: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: …to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and he replied to you that that, for the most part, is not possible because the federal…

DEMAIO: Actually, wait, wait, no, no, actually…

CAVANAUGH: …government will not allow the use of that money, the H-U-D, HUD, will not allow the use of that money…

DEMAIO: Actually, let me correct you there.

CAVANAUGH: …to pay down…

DEMAIO: It wasn’t – it wasn’t Jan Goldsmith. It was the – Jay Goldstone, who is the…

CAVANAUGH: I’m sorry. Jay Goldstone.

DEMAIO: …chief operating officer.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes.

DEMAIO: And let me be very clear about that because Jan Goldsmith and I have spoken about this and he agrees that there are a number of ways to transfer this money legally. And we are doing exactly what the mayor has suggested in Petco Park debt service. Donna Frye and I both are proposing this. Now, let me be very clear. Because the mayor’s office disagrees with us from a policy perspective doesn’t mean that you can’t legally do it, and that’s what’s about – that’s what this debate is all about. You have people saying you can’t use the money for anything else and they’re digging in their heels. We have used the money in the past for general fund expenditures. We – our proposal, Ms. Frye and I both support this proposal, is to continue that practice because we face a budget deficit. So it’s very clear that when you have the mayor’s office saying, oh, you can’t do this. Read the letter. I challenge you to read the letter. What they’re saying is, we disagree with doing it.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DEMAIO: There’s a big difference.

CAVANAUGH: They said that there may be a problem with the federal government if you try to use that money in a way that – where funds should come out of the general fund to pay down these obligations and you use…

DEMAIO: No, actually that – you need to reread your memo because what they are talking about is Community Development Block Grant monies and from that standpoint there is no determination from the federal government. And even there we offer that as an option. The primary proposal is to use it for Petco Park service and convention center fund…

CAVANAUGH: Now, Mel, is it your…

KATZ: The met – the…

CAVANAUGH: …contention that they can use this money the way Carl says they can?

KATZ: The Chief Operating Officer for the City, Jay Goldstone, couldn’t be clearer in his memo. And Carl keeps saying read the memo. Jay wrote, many of the budgetary shell games you envision, though creative and extremely aggressive, are the dubious legality and could therefore prove counterproductive to the mayor’s efforts to restore the city’s reputation of financial integrity and could cost the city much in litigation.

DEMAIO: And let me tell you that that’s the same argument Dick Murphy used five years ago when Donna Frye and I originally said that redevelopment money should be used to pay for Petco Park. Petco Park, at that time, was being paid for out of the general fund, which means that $11 million dollars that would’ve gone to police officers, firefighters and road repairs and libraries was being consumed for Petco Park. Mr. Murphy said the same thing five years ago. Now Mr. Sanders agrees with Donna Frye and I, and what we’re saying is let’s continue that practice.

KATZ: CCDC is now paying the debt services for Petco Park up through 2013. So, therefore, even if Carl was right, none of this money would be used until 2014. How does that help our budget discussions for…

DEMAIO: And that’s where…

KATZ: …exactly next year.

DEMAIO: Exactly. That’s why it should be…

KATZ: Convention center – convention center…

DEMAIO: Mel. Mel…

KATZ: …is not in the redevelopment area.

CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you gentlemen for a moment and let me pose a question to Congressman – Councilman DeMaio, and that is if, indeed, it is illegal to do what you suggest, let’s just propose that for a moment, let’s…

DEMAIO: You mean – so I guess we’d better return about $50 million of funds that we’ve already used.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s just – Let us just, for the sake of argument…

DEMAIO: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: …suppose that what the mayor’s office is saying here is impossible is, indeed, impossible.

DEMAIO: Right.

CAVANAUGH: What is your fundamental objection to, if the foundation can raise the money to build the central library downtown, do you still have an objection to that building going up?

DEMAIO: Oh, absolutely not. If they want to raise the full $200 million and pay for the operating expenses for ten years, I would, by all means, sign on the dotted line. But this gets down to the argument. You have city politicians and you have boosters claiming that this is a free lunch. Let me just warn your listeners, you’ve heard that line before on so many projects; don’t believe them. Look at the fine print. Donna Frye and I both have moved forward on both the Petco Park debt service. She agrees with me on convention center. We’re the ones five years ago that originally offered the idea to Dick Murphy to have the general fund save $12 million a year by having CCDC, the redevelopment agency pay for Petco Park. Murphy said no, you can’t do it, it’s not legal. Guess what we’re doing now? Murphy left office, Sanders is now doing it, we are saving tens of millions of dollars a year. We need to balance our budget, we need to provide for our general fund, libraries, the branch libraries, and this project will remove $63 million from the equation to balance the budget.

CAVANAUGH: KPBS reporter Alison St John…

ST JOHN: Okay…

CAVANAUGH: …would like to get in a word.

ST JOHN: Just as an observation, I guess, you know, there’s a lot of talk these days about the need for public/private partnerships and that that’s the way to go. We can’t be expecting to fund our public, you know, amenities entirely with public money so it has to be a combination. So I’m just curious because to take away the $63 million which remains from the CCDC contribution would be to remove from the table the public contribution and already we’ve heard that, in fact, this is one of the largest private contributions to a library in the country. It seems like if you’re looking for some kind of a compromise situation here where you’re looking for public support and private contributions, to pull the public money off the table entirely to kill the project, you know, is going – is flying in the face of that kind of…

DEMAIO: I know but, Alison, we cannot – I’m just saying to just the listeners. You get to decide. December 15th, open the paper and ask, are there proposals for shutting our branch libraries and cutting back hours? And recognize that this project, by keeping that $63 million in redevelopment funds as worthy as – I support public/private partnerships but I will not vote for a budget that reduces library hours to our branches and shuts our branches.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

DEMAIO: Those are our safe zones. We must do everything to protect them. And…

KATZ: And…

DEMAIO: …unfortunately this project threatens that.

KATZ: And the Library Foundation is going to be out there advocating that none of our libraries be closed and none of our hours be shortened. We are believers in the entire system. This new central library is going to be built without going into the general fund, without any new taxes, and without any new bonding.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. Alice is calling us from her car. Good morning, Alice. Welcome to These Days. Alice, are you there?

ALICE (Caller, Mobile): Oh, I’m sorry. I certainly am. I was just going to comment on Carl’s – DeMaio’s comment about that the Library Foundation has had since 2002 to raise the money and has fallen woefully short. There – All the people that I speak with and our friends have been reluctant to make an actual commitment to the new central library until it has actually been voted upon and, really, the shovels have been started in terms of the construction. I think there’s going to be a real groundswell of support once it is finalized. I don’t really want to make a commitment to the new library until I know it’s really going to happen and I think there are a lot of others like me out there. I…

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Alice. Thank you so much for your call. I really appreciate it. I want to take the other end of the fact that we are in a budget crunch and talk about the kind of stimulus that a building, a project like this could do in reviving our construction industry and helping downtown businesses. Do you think, Carl, that that would – you know, that other side of the coin might justify the building of a new library downtown?

DEMAIO: No, not when you can get the same number of jobs by fixing our crumbling infrastructure in the neighborhoods like roads and sidewalks, by fixing our fire stations, by fixing our branch libraries. Look, the reality is – and I appreciate the previous caller’s, you know, optimism and I – ordinarily, if we had a balanced budget, if we were healthy, if we didn’t have a pension crisis, retiree healthcare underfunded liability, I would say all right, I’m willing to bet on a vision. But the reality here is, is that this is a city with massive debts and to say that we’re going to put shovels in the ground not having 100% of the money in hard is a financial risk that this city cannot afford. We have to bring our city’s budget back into balance, and we have to protect our branches. Again, I would love to do this project but I think leadership requires learning when to say no, even to exciting projects, learning when to say no so that we can affirmatively say yes and keep our commitment to the yes, to the basics, police, fire, road repairs and branch libraries.

KATZ: Exciting projects that will not take any money from the general fund, that will not take away from any other branch library…

DEMAIO: That’s just not true.

KATZ: …that will not take from your – the potholes in your streets. And, you know, Carl talks about taking the CCDC money. That’s development fees for the downtown redevelopment area. Today 35,000 people live down there. When this library opens, there’ll be 45,000. In 20 years, there’ll be 90,000. They want a new downtown library as their new library. And if there isn’t going to be a new downtown library, they want some new parks, they want some new fire stations, they want other amenities for their area. We’re not looking at any other community around San Diego and saying let’s grab their development fees and even if it’s legal or not legal, use it to fill them up – help with the budget.

ST JOHN: There’s a couple of other points here which are that, as you mentioned in your introduction, Maureen. Now is like a unique window of opportunity to get a really good bid from the construction industry. It seems like, you know, we look at the military who is busy building hammer and tongs up there on Camp Pendleton and have managed to grab that window and get their construction that they’ve been planning for awhile, you know, done at a really economical rate. And then the other thing is that the City’s already spent $17 million on this. You know, is it just going to throw that away? And then the third point I thought, you know, it’s interesting to look at the economic cycles and the fact that the private sector is beginning to – you know the economy is beginning to show signs of recovery but the public sector always lags behind and I think cities are right now just facing moving into that crisis part of their cycle where things look really dark. But everything is a cycle and it will come out again, so when you’re looking to try to find the ideal point to build something which is of public, you know, value, this may look like the wrong time but it may turn out to be actually a perfect time.

DEMAIO: And…

CAVANAUGH: I’ve got to tell you, we are out of time. But I do – I think it’s only right to – the moderate voice of Alison St John ends this conversation. I want to thank you both – all three of you. Both you – San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, thank you.

DEMAIO: Thanks for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for rushing in. We really appreciate you for getting here.

DEMAIO: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Mel Katz, vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, thank you for being here.

KATZ: Thank you, Maureen. I really enjoyed it.

CAVANAUGH: And KPBS metro reporter Alison St John, thanks so much. You know, there were a lot of people who wanted to get in on the conversation but we just didn’t have time to take your calls. You can post your comments online about this segment, KPBS.org/TheseDays. Stay with us as These Days continues in just a few moments here on KPBS. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'annagrace'

annagrace | November 5, 2009 at 1:29 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

The New Central library should have opened in 2007. It was the one significant public infrastructure element-that's right, your tax dollars and mine too- in the ballpark redevelopment area.

There is a dreadful irony that Mr. DeMaio would bring up using CCDC monies allocated to the New Central for debt payment on the Petco Park bonds instead. So it's perfectly fine that taxpayers subsidize a private business- the ballpark- but we are told to go knocking on doors for donations to provide a much needed, planned public facility!

Citizens value their public facilities- they love and use their libraries and park and recreation centers. This was made eminently clear last year when Mayor Sanders proposed the closure of 7 branch libraries and 9 park and recreation facilities.

It is shortsighted and disingenuous however on the part of our elected representatives to use the tremendous support of the public for their branch libraries as a wedge issue against a New Central library. The branches are part of a library system that is supported by the resources- human, technological and material- that are provided by the central library. I know this first hand because I recently retired from 24 years of service from the Central library information desk. I served all library branches by drawing upon the expertise and training and in depth subject knowledge that the public needs and cannot be provided in a branch. People called or visited in person from throughout the city. Many callers were sitting in front of a computer, but had no idea how to search and find reliable information. Our leaders should be actively dispelling the erroneous notion that everyone has a computer, so who needs libraries; and that the Central library is simply a warehouse for books.

If our elected representatives truly want to maintain and strengthen their branch libraries, why is there a consistent lack of a commitment to the library ordinance? Why is the library system budget disproportionately reduced compared to other general fund departments?

The City Council has both the power and the responsibility to support libraries. They need to be maintained, supplied with up to date materials and technology, be adequately staffed and have convenient hours for the public.

The chronic and disproportionate lack of funding to the library system reflects political decision making more than economic factors. San Diego has gone through cycles of boom and bust and 35 years later we still don't have a New Central library. That's politics and political priorities.

When we crawl out of the current economic black hole, will we be looking at a new convention center? A new football stadium next to Petco Park?

Or will we be looking at a New Central library?

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Avatar for user 'mpanik'

mpanik | November 5, 2009 at 4:38 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I think Mr. Katz laid out the financial situation very well early on in the show. The project is in a good financial situation. If we don't build this library, it won't be because we don't have the funds, but because we don't want a library. And I think that would be a shame.

Michelle Panik
http://www.straycarrierpigeon.com/

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Avatar for user 'dfmm'

dfmm | November 5, 2009 at 7:45 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

In all the years of debate about a downtown library, I have heard no compelling reason why a "main" library is necessary as opposed to a branch library. Most ardent supporters seem to have ulterior motives. Those without ulterior motives haven't really thought this through; the overwhelming majority seem to favor a main library because in essence, we've always had one. When I ask people how often do they use the downtown library, none of them use it very often, and most of them have NEVER been to the downtown library. When I ask the follow-up question; "why do you want to raise your own taxes for something that you don't use," they have no answer. Even if a main library was a good idea, the city has grown and spread out, downtown is not the best location, downtown is no longer the geographic nor population center of the city.

Dan Jacobs

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Avatar for user 'LKarle'

LKarle | November 6, 2009 at 12:32 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

What does it say about our society when paying for a ballpark (and I'm a baseball fan!) is more important than building a center for learning and enlightenment? Am sorry to say that politicians don't always have the public's best interest in mind. The misdeeds of few should not be used against the next generation of citizens. We already have many issues in society--jobless rate at record highs, crime up, homes lost--let's build a place of hope & opportunity--and provide a safe place for kids to study!

Agree with previous post that trying to re-allocate funds to pay old debts is so unfair when this city so desperately needs a new downtown library. What better way to encourage kids than to offer a state of the art facility with all the latest technology? Also the area is so blighted that this new project could really help with re-development.

I support Mel and his work with the foundation and have 100% confidence that they will raise the remainder of the funds. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation might be interested in our story. They have provided millions & millions to US libraries...

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Avatar for user 'LKarle'

LKarle | November 6, 2009 at 12:44 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Article on the future of reading and why libraries are an integral part of this process (you can now check out e-books from your library online!):
http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6703852.html

In a large system such as ours, main branches support the work of the many suburban or neighborhood branches. They often serve as a central collection development (deciding what to buy & shelve) hub, technology center, etc. There are hundreds of public library systems in the US, and all of the larger ones have a main library. Most have been rebuilt, retrofitted, or remodeled in the last decade.

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