"Damn library" will open probably under budget but with fewer hours

The “damn library” in this headline is a tribute to a good-humoured reader who leaves–in jest, I imagine–this two-word comment on many articles related to Walnut Creek civic spats and controversies.

That’s right, this reader seems to be saying–or is poking fun as those who do adhere to this view–that if something is messed up in town, it just has to be the fault of the “damn library.” That “damn library” is sucking away money, time, energy from other, perhaps more worthy causes.

The Contra Costa Times’s Elisabeth Nardi reports today that the 42,000-square-foot library, long a source of controversy, will open in late spring or early summer. Some good news? The library, and its 123-space underground parking garage, appear to be coming in under the $41.5 million budget, but just how much no one is saying. Not yet.

The bad news? Well, just as the library opens, Measure Q, a $22-per parcel tax passed in 2002, will run out. Measure Q helped Walnut Creek libraries beef up the number of hours that their staff, employees with the Contra Costa County Library system, worked. Instead of the county only being able to staff the library 35 hours a week, Measure Q helped the county to pay workers to keep the Walnut Creek libraries to be open 56 hours.

The city, right now, seems reluctant to go back to Walnut Creek voters and ask them to extend the parcel tax. “It’s not the time right now to ask the taxpayers and residents for more funding,” Lorie Tinfow, assistant city manager told the Times.


I know that the library has long been a red-hot issue, long before the Neiman Marcus bomb dropped into town. I have friends who emphatically support the new library. I have friends who believe construction of the library has been a huge waste of resources.

I confess I was not paying much mind to the proposed new library when the idea first hit the fan: working, raising a small child.

I always had a sentimental attachment to the old library, because, as a teen-ager, I worked there after school and in the summers. What a great job. I helped check out books and would push those carts around into the stacks to shelve books. I confess I tended to disappear in those stacks if a book on the cart happened to catch my fancy.

Best part-time job for a teen-ager and college student ever!

I do believe civic ego drove some Walnut Creek city and community leaders to believe that they needed a grand new monument in town. Hey, Danville got it’s swanky new library. So did other towns up and down the I-680 corridor, from Livermore to Dublin to San Ramon. I like Orinda’s library plaza and fountain and the little cafe below.

And then….

Lafayette got its new, somewhat pretentiously titled, “Lafayette Library and Learning Center.” Well, I can imagine some Walnut Creek city and community leaders could not abide being shown up by, hmph, Lafayette!

So, a series of political battles and elections later, we are going to soon have a new downtown library. I suppose some of us could continue to grumble about the waste, the folly, the ego.

Or, we could just accept that it’s going to open soon, and maybe it will be kind of cool and worth all the fuss in the long term. Hey, it’s going to have a cafe!

Maybe, just maybe, it will exceed any of our low expections. How about that? I know when I pass along North Broadway and see that street-facing facade take shape, I think, hey, the library might turn out looking pretty good! Design-wise, it might just turn out to be a credit to our–uh–notable Walnut Creek skyline.

45 thoughts on “"Damn library" will open probably under budget but with fewer hours

  1. I'm not the one who uses those terms but I could. Take a look at the last page of Walnut Creek's budget summary for 2008-2010. $34 million for the library, then look at all the other things that are funded way less. All because some wannabe bigwigs needed their names on a bronze plaque.


  2. I agree that it's time to look forward and not back. But the people who deride the council for “wasting” money on a new library, as if the decision was hasty and demagogic(sp?), seem to forget the failed efforts to obtain grants, bonds, etc. I've suspected that the agency that distributes library grant money looked at Walnut Creek, saw the downtown lined with “upscale” shops (Tiffany's was probably the proverbial straw), and wondered where we got the nerve to ask. All that glass and glitz, and just a block away our library sat, seedy, drafty, archaic. The timing was off, economically, to just take the plunge and do it. But in the long run, a decent library helps prove we value more than just the commercialism our downtown represents. Whatever their motives, I'm glad the council went ahead with it.


  3. Well, Anonymous 2:07 p.m., why should downtown continue to represent commercialization? If you are so forward looking, why is that a bad thing when it brings in revenue, and keeps retail space in use versus “in blight.” Tell us, pray tell, why was the former library seedy? At what time of the day did you experience this seedy behavior you mention? Drafty? Bring a coat with you while you read, or better yet, don't sit by the doorways. Archaic? Walnut Creek hasn't been around that long for its library to be described as “archaic.” If you were so ashamed of your town, then move to a warmer, less drafty location with modern buidlings…like Dubai!


  4. Libraries are generally centers of learning. And annon 5:01 if you would go and use the library you might learn about what it means to be a free country, where people like annon 2:07 have a right to express their views and work towards change.

    And once you understand this basic principle you will stop suggesting that annon 2:07 should move to Dubai.


  5. Soccer Mom,
    Maybe your son will work in the new library. I hope so.
    Even better, he will enjoy the new teen center.
    A pro-library friend


  6. Anon 2:07

    The downtown library was “seedy, drafty, archaic” (your words) because the Librarynistas let it become that way to justify the building of a “gotcha” version that out-does all those around us.

    Their dream was to have the biggest and best and they did nothing for years to update or improve the old building even down to not providing handicapped toilet facilities.

    Failed attempts at obtaining State grants and failures of State bonds made them desperate enough to try a local measure which also failed. Desperation brought them to the point of begging, borrowing and stealing funds from other departments to get the new library built. After the passage of Measure R failed, then City Manager Mike Parness dared to suggest that it might be appropriate to downsize the grandiose plans to better fit the funds available……that suggestion of good fiscal management got him fired and the Librarynistas prevailed yet again.

    So here we sit waiting for the other shoe to drop as those in charge do what they do best….tap dance their way around the truth and we will never really know just how much money this new “center of learning” costs.


  7. When opened, the library will see huge attendence. This however will only be short-lived. As with every new glitzy building, the demand will fade and will fade back to the old attendence numbers that were attributed to the old library. Truth is, most will resort to their libraries at home, free wi fi coffee shops and the Barnes and Noble. Also, there is just too much competition to the library to sustain any good steady attendence numbers such as the LaFayette, Pleasant Hill and Orinda libraries, book stores and personal computers and hand held information devices… This project was NOT forward thinking.


  8. Is your so-called “librarynista” group a communist organization, or what? Or, is this an Islamic subversive outfit? Have you done your patriotic duty to report them to the FBI/CIA, etc.?

    If these people are as bad as you think, you better get cracking!


  9. Cindy Silva is to blame for all of this. She only cares about herself and her image. If anyone actually cared what was going on in WC, she would never have been voted into office.


  10. 8:37 pm

    Cindy Silva is not alone in this whole mess. She is one of a group of female Council Members including Kathy Hicks, Gwen Regalia and Sue Rainey who wanted to have their names on a prominent building on Broadway forever. These women have successfully thrown all good sense out the window when it comes to fiscal responsibilty to the citizens they are supposed to represent. It will be years before this town recovers from their arrogance and short sightedness when it comes to spending money.

    The library may be a very nice addition to our community but not at the expense of every other service that the city provides.


  11. Yes, the downtown library battle is not over if the hours are reduced. It is big , ugly, and environmentally insensitive,but we own it now. We will see if its supporters will step up to the plate for a renewal of Measure Q. I suspect that once again Measure Q support will come from Rossmoor and the users of the Casey Branch library— we live in town , we use the services of the library and we know a good fiscal deal when we encounter one. $ 22/year is a bargain for increased library hours. Count me in again as a supporter of Measure Q!!!


  12. I wonder if the new library will have some kind of volunteer program for kids as young as 12. Just a plot my husband and I are hatching for our son, who is talking about how he doesn't want to go to camp and just “hang out.” Some hanging out is fine–he's a kid–it's summer. I didn't plenty of hanging out myself But…

    If there is some such thing, let the public know, and you might have


  13. SM – why don't you make your own summer parenting program?

    here's one idea: drop your kid off at the county food bank and “encourage” him to volunteer for one month?


  14. Reality, good or bad, is that many people now use the Kindle or Nook, use book stores and PC's, use laptops and iPhones. Libraries are dead. Unless the leaders running this new library figure out a way to get top billing speakers, I think this library will be mostly empty. At most, a drop off place for kids by their parents and place for lonely old people. Again, pros and cons.


  15. The library should come under budget since they keep reducing, deferring, substituting, or cancelling construction materials, amenities, furnishings, and programs. I thought this city needed an updated library, however I twice voted NO on building it because 1/3 of the cost was for underground parking when there is a underutilized public parking lot one block away. Wasn't it Cathy Hicks that said 'Walnut Creek is a walking town,'?. Talk about consistency on the city council.

    I believe the strategy for letting the $22 tax expire is to combine the legitimate continued need to fund increased library services and hours and also to fund all the unfinished building projects that have been deferred due to lack of funding. Standby for a campaign for a new higher cost parcel tax to cover both.

    If that does happen, I think we will have no choice but to pass it.


  16. Can SM do a piece on property taxes? I'd like to see how much a property owner pays in parcel taxes and just how many there are.


  17. Love it! I'm the “damn library” contributor. I started it when every ill in the area seemed to be blamed on the “damn library”.

    Extend measure Q to the unincorporated areas where I live.


  18. People who are saying libraries are “dead” haven't been to libraries that draw people in with computer access, art displays, public talks, guest lecturers, film series, children's events, and, yes, hard-copy books that people may not be able to find on Google or via their Kindles or prefer to read on the (gasp) printed page.

    Examples seen here, from SF Public Library's public events page:



  19. I can't wait to visit the new “dang” library!

    A lot of people cared enough to contribute over $5,000,000 privately to help this project happen. I thank you all for that.

    To those that object to the library for the next fifty years, remember that the last two City Council elections have been focused upon the new library as a key issue. The winners were library supporters. Voters also supported the library in bond measures by > 60%.

    So if you don't want us to have this vibrant addition to the City, you do not have to participate. Just don't pretend you have majority support; you don't!


  20. Citing the results of the past two elections as proof that the library has overwhelming support of Walnut Creekers is a joke.

    The retiring council members annointed their successors (library advocates all) and the developers followed with the necessary funding so that they could continue to build in this town at will.

    As to the voters supporting bond measures by 60%……sorry not enough to pass. Enough voters didn't wish to spend money on the come to give the nod to the library as it was planned at the time.

    Wonder if the results of all of the elections would be different now that the voters have the opportunity to view past the huge building that now dominates Civic Park as they drive by? Bet in these hard economic times when our city is broke, partly due to poor fiscal management, the voters would take a dim view of very expensive capital improvement projects of any kind.


  21. SM – can you research a couple of things perhaps for a future article? I spoke to someone involved with the library but couldn't get good answers.

    1) Is it true that certain parts of the library will be left unfinished/closed due to lack of funds?

    2) There's supposed to be a coffee shop as part of the library. Has this concession been assigned already? If not, how do they decide what company gets the job?

    It seems silly to cut hours for something that was important enough to spend this much money on. Wondering if there are ways to rejigger the budget so hours are not a problem…


  22. Two things.
    The library is dead due to eBooks, internet etc. reminds me of the movie theater is dead due to the VCR, Netflix, Video on demand comments. Just went to the theater last night and it was packed.
    The library needs a retail coffee shop that is the coolest around. It can face the street but have a door to the library, have it's own hours and generate some revenue for the library.

    DL contributor


  23. Dear DL contributer:
    The causality is not the same. This is all about demand. Unfortunatley for the library, the demand will be strong short run only. And if the library hours of operations are cut, demand will down tick sharply. Plain and simple, this was a disasterous investment. Maybe according to your logic, they should turn part of the library into a movie theater to increase demand.


  24. DL Contributor,
    It is probably not a wise investment of your time to attempt to reason with Anon 7:55, who made four spelling errors in one paragraph.


  25. Yeah, libraries are a bad investment! Kids and adults should not read! I thought your comment was dumb! There are stats that show libraries are in use. I was at downtown theater this week (2 times-lucky me) and it was packed both times, so I guess Videos/Net Flick etc is not hurting the theater is not doing too much damage!!


  26. The problems I have with the new library and the way it was funded include too much money spent on parking yet no money spent on solar electric and solar hot water, yet it's been referred to as a green building. Because this major civic project does not have the guaranteed funding that selling bonds would have provided, much of the building will remain unfinished since there is no money to complete all the interior finish work. The library will require many trips back to the 'trough' to complete the building so that it can be fully functional. Also to be fully functional would require it to be open for many more hours than the present day budget allows. How will all of this be funded? I'm sure there are plans to charge heavily to use the public meeting rooms and I'll agree with a previous writer's statement that a hefty parcel tax earmarked for the library will soon be on a ballot to finish the building and fund extended hours. The city council was very arrogant and short sighted when they ignored the spirit of the 2/3 majority rule when they authorized the project and should not be rewarded for this 'end around' the law. For that and to cut costs, I think that the big bronze plaque that is sure to go on the building not have any of the names of the members of the city council imprinted on it. Their names should not be commemorated, just forgotten.


  27. I'm going to attempt to answer some of the questions posed lately.

    Anon Dec 28 @ 10:52am asked about what specific parcel taxes people pay.

    If you are a homeowner, all of your parcel taxes are clearly identified on your annual tax bill.

    Dan Simoes Dec 29 @ 1:33am asked about possible reductions in the library project and how the coffee shop vendor would be chosen.

    1) As part of its budget reductions, the City Council reduced the City's portion of library funding by $500,000. The furnishings for the conference room, business and job center and technology center as well as the opening day collection were included in this reduction. The WC Library Foundation has taken on the task of replacing these funds and has already obtained funding for the technology center and part of the business center and opening day collection. The Friends of the WC Library are also donating $100,000 to the opening day collection. There is currently no plan to reduce hours below the current 56 when the new library opens.
    2) The City staff will be deciding on the operator for the coffee shop.

    Castle Hill Bill Dec 30 @ 11:14am asked about energy features, eondering why solar panels and water heating were not included.

    The building is wired to be solar-ready but the best bang for the buck on energy-saving features was with several other options including an Energy-Star roof, efficiently insulated windows, light-harvesting by computer control of lighting, HVAC through raised floors, etc. With the continued efforts of the library foundation to “fill the gap” on library funding, we should open in late June or early July with a fully-functional library.

    Anon Dec 29 @ 10:47pm asked about donor recognition signageand whether there would be a “bronze plaque”.

    All donor recognition signage is being paid by the library foundation. I don't think there's a bronze plaque but there is a major donor wall as is typical in projects partially funded by donations.

    I'm a volunteer on the board of directors for the WC Library Foundation and the Friends of the WC Library.
    Bob Brittain


  28. Mr. Brittain,
    Regarding Anon 10:47's remarks on Dec. 29 about the bronze plaque -I do believe that he was commenting on Castle Hill Bill's reference to the questionable memorializing of council member's names on said plaque not the donors plaque.

    Recognition of donors is appropriate but then, so is recognition of all tax paying citizens of Walnut Creek who have supplied the bulk of the moeny to build the library.

    In addressing the energy efficiency of the new library Mr. Brittain, you neglected to mention the ridiculous expenditure of $250,000, that's right, $250,000, to oftain a bronze plaque that certifies a certain level of LEED standards. Why not just build to those standards and forget the bronze plaque given out by some organization in D.C.? Just think what that $250,000 could have contributed to the library.


  29. “A soft answer turneth away wrath…”
    Proverbs 15:1

    Well, maybe not in Walnut Creek, right CreekyDiva?

    I am not aware of bronze plaques either for the City leaders or LEED certification but I could just be ignorant. It was explained to me recently that achieving LEED certification requires extensive inspection both before and after a building opens to assure that energy-saving features are working as planned. The funding spent on this process may then end up saving a lot more than the certification expense in the long run. I hope so.



  30. Mr. Brittain,

    Uttering Biblical quotes does not shore up your argument at all. It just proves your “holier than thou” attitude when it comes to the library.

    Please refer back to the council meetings where the LEED standards were duscussed and voted upon and you will find that the council seemed to be quite impressed that there would, in fact, be a bronze plaque attesting to those building standards. At any rate, just how much could verification of LEED standards cost? Surely not $250,000!

    As to not being aware of any bronze plaque to be placed on the building with the council members' names—–just take a look around town at every other building built with public funds (Lesher Center, City Hall etc.)—–guess what, a bronze plaque with the date and council members names. I don't have any problem with that as long as the tax paying citizens also get recognition for their contribution.


  31. Hello CreekyDiva,

    I don't have sufficient information to determine the appropriate cost of LEED certification but I hope that it pays off in the long run.

    I agree that Walnut Creek citizens deserve credit for the new library. The library foundation suggested early on that the name MUST be the Walnut Creek Library (vs. the name of some potential donor with a large gift) and that item was incorporated formally into the donor recognition policy by the City Council.

    If there is a bronze plaque for the building, I hope it will have the recognition of WC citizens that you suggest.



  32. Bob,

    You are missing the whole point. Building the library to LEED standards is wonderful and very important but why does it cost $250,000 for certification? Why is it necessary to be officially “certified” if the standards are implemented in the plans?

    Whether it is a certificate or plaque or whatever is not important. The end result is and that could have been taken care of without spending $250,000.

    As a member of the Foundation Board with a wife who is the head librarian, you should be aware of how cutting out “frills” such as a certification could greatly benefit the new library to the tune of 250,000 extra dollars to be put to better use.



  33. OK CheekyDiva,
    I'm through talking with you if you remain anonymous.
    If the “whole point” of the new library to you is the LEED certification, it's a waste of my time to continue the conversation. After all, it was not a library foundation issue in the first place. Our goal is to build a new library that will serve all of our citizens for the next fifty years.


  34. Oh Bobby, you devil you…

    I would love to be cheeky but you don't seem to have much of a sense of humor so it wouldn't be any fun.

    Some of us prefer to remain anonymous because it makes life more interesting and keeps you guessing.

    Happy New Year and adios.


  35. Most reasonable people I've talked to never objected to a newer modern library. They objected to a $45 million one. The council could have had their library, a nice one, bronze plaque and all, for 1/3 of the price or less and they wouldn't be in the financial mess they are in now. THAT is the point people!


  36. Yee Haw 10:51! A fellow traveler.

    Thank you for your very intelligent and concise explanation of the whole library issue.


  37. Ok, here we go with the 'should've built one for a 1/3 of the price'…

    Take a look at the price of the following recently built libraries in Dublin, Livermore, Lafayette and Orinda. Compare the cost to the population to compute a cost per sq. ft. to resident. When you've completed the exercise post a new comment.


  38. Needs vs Wants. Needs assessment or a Wants assessment? Did WC really need this huge library? No, it really wanted it and now can not afford it. I want a 2010 new 7 series BMW but I don't need it. If I buy though, I will not be able to afford it!


  39. Do you people really still not get it? Of course we realize that the library is as relevant as Latin when we decided to build it, this was never about little kids and old people. This is about making sure that our legacy lives on long after we are gone, and having you all pay for it. Suckers.

    Getting tazed in your front yard while unloading groceries and then waiting 20 minutes for help after dialing 911? Too bad so sad.

    And you think a bronze plaque is enough? Pffffsh. There will be a statue of all of us on the Walnut Creek City Council dressed like Roman Senators in front of the monstrosity so that we are never forgotten. And don't worry, I will make sure the sculptor gets my best side, my ass, for you all to kiss every time you grumble about your taxes.


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