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Will San Diego Finally Get A New Downtown Library?

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Video published June 18, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: As decision time approaches for the proposed downtown library, we ask why the big push for this big new building.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Construction for a new long anticipated downtown San Diego library has moved one step closer to reality. Earlier this week a city council committee voted to forward the project to the full city council for consideration on June 28th. So here to give us the latest on the downtown library project is KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr. Thanks for coming Katie.

KATIE ORR (KPBS Metro Reporter): Thanks for having me.

PENNER: What will the council decide at the June 28th meeting?

ORR: Well, this is the big vote. This is where the city decides either yes we are going ahead with this project or no, don’t want to do it.

PENNER: Oh, so that’s it. That’s really it.

ORR: That’s it. If they decide, if they approve everything they need to, then construction will start by August 1st.

PENNER: And how much will that construction cost?

ORR: Well, the total project costs about $185 million. So yes, $185 million for the whole project.

PENNER: And who’s paying for that?

ORR: It comes from a variety of sources. There’s a $20 million grant from the state, which actually drives the need to get it started by August 1st.

PENNER: $20 million?

ORR: $20 million from the state. $20 million from the school district, because they are going to put a charter school on the top two floors. $30 million from private donors.

PENNER: $30 million private.

ORR: And then about $80 million from redevelopment district – CCDC.

PENNER: That gives me $140 million.

ORR: Yes, they are about $32 million short, which is the big sticking point for a lot of people. Some council members are skeptical about moving forward with the project when they don’t have all the money in place. Library supporters say that’s not how fundraising works. They say it’s actually pretty impressive that they’ve raised as much as they have so far with the project being uncertain. They say that once they start construction going on and steel coming out of the ground that people will say okay this is really happening, I feel safe giving you money now.

PENNER: Well you can see in this economic environment where everything is on shortfall and people are losing jobs that there would be some concern about where will that money come from? I think the question is where is the opposition coming from?

ORR: Well, the opposition is Carl DeMaio, Councilman Carl DeMaio has been a big opponent to this project. He says listen - we don’t have the money. And again people are worried if that $32 million doesn’t come through what are we going to do? Are taxpayers going to have to foot the bill? That’s a risk he doesn’t want to take. A lot of people say hey what about our branch libraries? Some of them are in disrepair. They need to be renovated. Tony Young was saying a library in his district has been on top of the list for renovations and now he’s seeing people pull-out, donors pull-out of that project and he’s wondering if they’re going to the downtown library. Supporters say of course – no, no, no this is a central library, it will help all our branch libraries and their priorities as well.

PENNER: I see, so it’s really part of the system – community libraries and then this central library? Why is that needed?

ORR: The new central library?


ORR: It was built in 1954. And as early as the 1970s it was in city plans as needing to be revamped. It’s three stories tall. They say 60 percent of their stock is kept where people can’t get to it, just because there’s no room. It only has about only 80 computers. It’s just an outdated building.

PENNER: Now once it is built, where is the money to keep it going?

ORR: Well, that’s another sticking point. The library foundation has gotten a $10 million donation that will pay the operating costs for the first five years. After that, it would fall to the library system. And they have said that money they generate from renting out community rooms in the library and money they get from parking, you’re going to have to pay to park down there – that those are some of the revenues that will help pay for the operating costs in years to come.

PENNER: Help pay for it, but not the whole thing?

ORR: Well, that remains to be seen. They do have some money that they put towards the central library now and certainly that will come over. But that’s what they’re counting on.

PENNER: Ok, well thank you very much. Katie Orr.

ORR: Thank you.

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