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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Promised Emeryville Community Library May Finally Be In The Works

Oakland May Increase Library Fees Charged to Emeryville From $120,000 Per Year to $800,000

 Fee Hike Drives Council to Reconsider 
 Forsaken Library Promise

Nine years after the citizens voted for and paid for a community library, the Emeryville City Council is finally talking about building it...and it would appear a major increase in the fees the City of Oakland charges Emeryville for use of their library is driving the new found interest in having our own library.
The building of a public library has been entered as item number nine in the City of Emeryville's top ten 'Priorities, Goals and Strategies' for 2020 as voted on by the Council.  This better-late-than-never plan belies the last nine years over which the citizens, after having already paid for the library, have been patiently waiting for its debut.

In 2010, Emeryville library loving voters went to the polls to decide on Measure J, a $95 million municipal bond outlay that would build the Emeryville Center of Community Life, a vast new schools and community center project that promised to provide the town with its first public library as well as an upgrade replacement for the previous 'substandard' school libraries.  Measure J passed and the public money has been spent, but the promised libraries never materialized.  The school library ended up being smaller and less accessible for students than their previous libraries were and the public library was never built at all.

Emeryville: Biggest City With No Library
Emeryville, with its current population of almost 13,000 residents, has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the Bay Area with no municipal public library.  And despite strong public support (the measure passed with 73%) and specific campaign promises from Council members Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in 2018, there has been no movement towards giving the residents what they voted for and already paid for.

A Sign Went Up But
No Library Inside

A large sign facing San Pablo Avenue
tells the community their library is here.
The space inside is being used by the
school district for an extra classroom.

The vexatious sign is an ipso facto graphic
symbol reminder of failed public policy. 
Measure J, it should be stated, also funded the building of a school library on the ECCL site for the K-12 students at Emery Unified School District.  But like the general Emeryville population, the students got shortchanged by Measure J too.  The promised ‘new and improved’ school library as built is considerably smaller than the previous school libraries with far fewer services, including volumes.  The new library contains 27,000 total volumes for the elementary school and the high school combined.  The old libraries contained approximately 50,000 volumes total spread between the elementary school (30,000) and the high school (20,000).
Noteworthy too is the fact there is now only one library serving all K-12 students.  Whereas before the expenditure of the $95 million, students could use their libraries anytime during the school day,  now, with a shared space and the State mandated prohibition against mixing older high school aged students with the youngest children, the times students can access their one library has been severely managed and curtailed.

The community library Emeryville residents paid for was promised to be substantial.  The ECCL plans shows a real functional community library there.  An open public plaza off San Pablo Avenue with copious seating and an open to the public cafe was to front the library.  Inside, the library space itself was to be quite large, 6,600 square feet, large enough to comfortably serve 40 people at a time.  There was earmarked a staff of three librarians and the ECCL parking lot was to include nine spaces for library patrons.  The Emeryville community library was to be "open to public use all day", M-F with Saturdays as well.

Realpolitik Shapes New Library Debate 
The City Council has not done its due diligence with regard to the community library over the last nine years to be sure.  However, the sudden interest taken by the whole Council as evidenced by its inclusion in the City priorities list, has all the attributes of a sharpened focus brought on by the effects of large and unplanned outflows of money.  A new force seems to be spurring all of them into talk, if not action on the issue.  Oakland's Golden Gate Library Emeryville is contracted to use, is raising their rates.  For years the City of Oakland has been charging the City of Emeryville $120,000 per year for our citizens to use their library.  Recently Oakland has announced the yearly library services fee Emeryville must pay is going to be raised to as much as $800,000 per year.  Eyebrows were raised in the Council chambers as well when the staff informed them of the new fee schedule.

For the last few decades, Emeryville has been on a pro business/development trajectory that has netted a degradation of public amenities and services here.  Unlike previous more conservative iterations of the City Council, the current 'progressive' Council, to their credit, has focused on bringing in new affordable housing and living wages to our lowest paid workers.  They have had a nearly singular regional mindset.  What this Council has not done is address the needs of those who live here now.  They've been no better than their predecessors in improving livability for existing residents.
From its inability to provide parks to match our burgeoning population rise, to its failure to provide places for families to live in support of our school district, to its troubling deficiency in stemming the transition of our town from a city of homeowners into a city of renters, this Council has shown little interest in improving the lives of the people who live here.  Regardless they may be primarily driven by the distasteful idea of shelling out $800,000 per year to Oakland and their attempts to stanch that, their new found interest in honoring their commitment to the people of Emeryville as far as the community library goes, represents a welcome change. 


  1. Is there any transparency in how the $95 million bond money was spent?

    1. The State mandates there be a citizens oversight committee for school district general obligation bond spending. The problem is the committee only makes sure the money the city/school district spends is on the up and up. They don't concern themselves with how the money is divvied up between the items on the bond project list. So while the money has been spent transparently, it hasn't been spent the way the people who voted for it wanted it to be spent.

  2. i volunteered at the anna yates library for four years. i sat on the oversight committee for five months before quitting. their responsibility was not to make sure expenses paid were "on the up and up." the oversight committee saw paid invoices after they were paid. the committee had no responsibilities the five months i was on the committee. oversight committees are only formed due to state law. they carry no weight. in fact, when i asked then supt. john sugiyama what were our responsibilities, he looked at me sheepishly and said "i don't know." that is the night i decided to quit the committee.

    meals and beverages were provided for meetings that lasted only two hours. this was paid from measure J funds.

    expenses were paid in 2010 before the committee was even formed. no one on the oversight committee questioned the paid expenses. i asked for an itemized list of monthly paid expenses and had to make the request sometimes three times per month. when i did receive them, i entered the paid expenses in my quickbooks at home. no one seemed interested to see how much was paid in legal fees or outside consulting or restaurants. to learn now that there is no library at eccl is appalling to me because the wording of measure j specifically states funds would maintain the library. i doubt any one on the city/school committee even looked at paid invoices.

    I discovered that $250,000 was spent on Ipads for the students in 2011, years before the school even opened. brian donahue did some research and discovered many of the Ipads were missing or stolen. the committee was run so ineptly that the person who replaced me quit after two or three months. because your library was not constructed per measure J, i'm sure former supt. john rubio could claim to balance his budget or even claim a surplus, if he did.