Education in Oakland

New Library: Not Overdue

Posted by novometro on July 24, 2006

Even the people promoting the plan allow that they face a tough fight. The Oakland Public Library has three months to convince voters that paying $39 a year for every $100,000 of assessed property value to upgrade old libraries and build a new main branch at the Henry J. Kaiser convention center is a good idea.  Good luck.

True, Oakland voters did pass a $400 million-plus school bond with more than three-quarters of the vote only last month, and Alameda County backed a proposition for $600 million in new library money that voters statewide rejected in June. But libraries are not schools, and allowing the state to borrow money is not the same as paying an extra $200 a year (on a $500,000 house) in property tax.

The library hasn’t revealed its campaign, but to succeed it will have to accomplish two things. First, it will have to make the case that a library is the best use for the Henry J. Kaiser convention center, which now occupies some of the most valuable real estate in the country. And second, the bond’s backers will need to tell voters why the city should have a showcase main library at all.  Both points could be hard sells.

What’s in it for us? If we want books we can go to our local branch. DVDs? Ditto. The same holds for the children’s story times, free legal advice, and the other important services a library offers. There is no question that the main library needs an overhaul, it’s not so clear it needs new digs.

To be sure, the library can close the deal. But it will have to put forward some appealing options that include more than a café.


4 Responses to “New Library: Not Overdue”

  1. Andy said

    Actually, transferring the library to the Kaiser Convention Center will cost about $60 million LESS than renovating the current main library. You should read the feasability study.

  2. Alex Gronke said

    We aren’t disputing that relocating to the Kaiser could be cheaper than some possible renovation plans of the current site. But we do wonder if the library should occupy such prime real estate.

  3. While the real esate is indeed valuable, there is no more public use of this great convention center than the library. The only other idea on the table is to make it in to a trade-show center, which is not a good, public use. To maximize the land’s value we’d have to tear the Kaiser Center down and sell the land off to a developer, and nobody wants to do that.

    Also, free legal advice is exactly the sort of service that one needs a main, downtown library branch to provide. There is not enough demand for service like that at branch libraries; speciality services have to consolidated. We should not follow LA’s route of not having a main library – Oakland needs a cenral library that is for all of its residents.

  4. V Smoothe said

    Every branch library is recieving an upgrade as part of the bond as well. And 2 new branch libraries are being constructed.

    As for the Kaiser Convention Center main – as noted above, renovating the Kaiser Center to accomodate the library is cheaper than expanding and renovating the current main library, which was built in the 1940s and does not have space to shelve most of its collection in a way accessible to the public, nor does the infrastructure properly support adequate computer networks. And there is no proper space for meeting areas.

    Furthermore, the Kaiser Center is more accessible to most citizens than the current main library, which features, frustratingly, no parking at all. The Kaiser library will have 200 spaces, be closer to BART, and is served by 9 buses (plus the forthcoming BRT line).

    The library at Kaiser also has the advantage of preserving for public use the Calvin Simmons Theater, which would likely be shuttered permanently in the event of private purchase of the center.

    And something that seems to be getting overlooked in these discussions is that the current main library sits on pretty valuable land as well, which the city will be able to sell once the transfer is complete.

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