Berkeley’s library wars heated up Tuesday as some three dozen people, including four city council members, rallied at Old City Hall to support demolishing and rebuilding the city’s South and West libraries, and to call on a preservationist group to withdraw a lawsuit that would hold up the projects.
A few hours later, the city council set a May 17 hearing to review the zoning and landmarks commissions’ approvals of the project.
At issue is the $26 million bond measure approved by voters in 2008 to renovate the city’s four branch libraries. The city and library board want to tear down the old South and West libraries and rebuild them.
However, the preservationist group, the Concerned Library Users, have sued the city, saying Measure FF supports remodeling, but not demolition. The measure said the funds would be used to "renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements" to the libraries.
Around midnight on Tuesday, council members voted to set a May 17 hearing on the project’s environmental impact report, approved by the zoning and landmarks commissions. It was a precautionary move that assumed the commission decisions would be challenged.
Judith Epstein addressed the council, asking it to send the question of environmental approval back to the landmark and zoning commissions for new hearings. And Christopher Lien of the Le Conte Neighborhood Association told the council: “The language of the bond is clear — it’s for renovation.” He further called on the council to protect the historic features of the libraries.
But citing the “poor, unsafe conditions” of the two libraries, Maio responded, “If there were mistakes, that’s no reason to not do anything.”
The Concerned Library Users suit, which says the bond money shouldn’t be paying for the demolition, may be moot, however, according to Councilman Darryl Moore, who is also a library trustee. That’s because City Manager Phil Kamlarz has said the demolition will be funded by the city’s general fund and not by bond money. The council will probably have to approve the funding, Moore said.