Five years ago the Library Crew were determined.
Where did the money come from to build the $39.9 Million library?
- They had to get a pro-Library team member onto the city council, Cindy Silva 2006 to 2010
WALNUT CREEK / Seeking jewel of a library / Funding problems hamper effort to build new facility
By Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Rebecca Fisher helps daughter Alexandra, 2, pick out a book from the cart with children's titles at the Walnut Creek library. Chronicle photo by Mark Costantini
Credit: MARK COSTANTINI
Fed up with being a Tiffany city with a dime-store library that many call a time capsule of the Kennedy era, Walnut Creek is charging ahead with its decadelong effort to build a marquee library in Civic Park. The problem is finding someone to pay for it. The city has for years struggled to find the money to build a state-of-the-art, 42,000-square-foot library to replace its cramped and outdated one downtown. The city has managed to set aside $17 million, but the facility it wants costs $53 million, and so far the state and voters -- who rejected a $21 million bond measure last month -- have refused to help make up the difference.
Undaunted, library supporters are hoping to snare an $18 million grant from a state library bond on the June ballot, raise money privately and even try another city bond. "We're going to build a new library," promised Edward Del Beccaro, president of the Walnut Creek Library Foundation. "We will insist on it. Right now, Walnut Creek -- a city of Tiffany -- has the most abysmal, primitive library in the Bay Area. We are going to change that." City Council members "reaffirmed their commitment to building a library this size" at a special meeting Dec. 5, said city spokesman Brad Rovanpera. They directed City Manager Mike Parness to talk to community groups about cost-saving alternatives, although they don't want to reduce the size. The state bond headed for the June ballot would earmark $600 million for library construction around the state, following the now-depleted $350 million state library bond of 2000. The city has tried and failed to get state library money, but remains confident it will score this time, Rovanpera said. Previously, the city's application had been given a high rating but the money ran out before Walnut Creek got its share. This time, Walnut Creek should be near the top of the list, he said. "If the bond passes, Walnut Creek will automatically get the $18 million," he said. The proposed library would include a cafe, used book store, conference room, ample space for computers and a multistory parking garage with 300 spaces. If the state bond passes, the city hopes to get an $18 million grant and add it to the $17 million set aside from its own coffers. The remaining $18 million would be raised privately through the Walnut Creek Library Foundation, or possibly from a future city bond -- though voters rejected Measure R, a $21 million bond issue, in November. The measure received 61 percent of the vote, falling 1,300 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. Almost everyone agrees Walnut Creek needs to replace its 44-year-old, 9,300-square-foot library, which does not meet seismic or Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The library is so cramped that librarians must remove a book every time a new book comes in, and the books are squeezed onto shelves so tightly that browsers can't always see the titles. Walnut Creek has changed radically since the library was built in 1961, growing from a sleepy town of 10,000 with more orchards than subdivisions to an upscale shopping hub complete with a Tiffany jeweler, Nordstrom and Il Fornaio bistro. The population has jumped more than sixfold, to about 66,500. "That library is like a time capsule from the JFK era," said Rovanpera. "It even has the original chairs." But some residents say that the city's library plans are too grandiose, too expensive and infringe on too much open space at Civic Park. Hardy Miller, co-chair of the No on R campaign, which opposed November's library bond, noted that 10,000 people voted against Measure R. "The library should be replaced, definitely, but we don't think this $53 million plan is a good idea, and 10,000 people agreed with us," he said. Instead, he'd like to see the plans scaled back and paid for with the $17 million set aside for a new library. He said the city should scrap any hopes pinned to the state bond money, because the bond might not pass and if it does, Walnut Creek might get passed over again. "Who's to say they'll decide that Walnut Creek warrants a new library over, say, Antioch, or any other city with fewer resources than Walnut Creek?" he asked. He is encouraged, however, by the City Council's directive that the city manager meet with community groups during the next six weeks to hear alternatives. Although the city is committed to the proposed size of the new library, it is looking for ways to save money. Anne Cain, the Contra Costa County head librarian, said she was "delighted" by the council's move. "When an election doesn't go the way you want, people look at it as a loss," she said. "But in this case, we're looking at the huge amount of community support we have, and the support of the City Council. It's very encouraging." Numerous cities around the Bay Area have received state bond money to replace or refurbish their aging libraries, including Lafayette, Castro Valley, Livermore, Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Clara. E-mail Carolyn Jones at email@example.com.