Berkeley Library Lawsuit Approaches Settlement

Photo: The West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library was intended to be demolished but has been a point of contention in a recent lawsuit.
Shirin Ghaffary/Photo
The West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library was intended to be demolished but has been a point of contention in a recent lawsuit.

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Correction Appended

Update: The article has been updated to indicate that Linda Schacht is a member of The Daily Californian's Board of Directors.

After three months of negotiations over the Berkeley Public Library's contentious renovation plans - which do not currently require Environmental Impact Reports - the city of Berkeley and the Concerned Library Users are on the verge of a settlement, though its validity has yet to be determined.

The settlement, which was announced Tuesday, would reconcile debate over the classification of the library's zoning. In the lawsuit filed Aug. 30, the association challenged the city in its adoption of a new law permitting the library to obtain a use permit, rather than a variance - which would require the Zoning Adjustments Board to complete an EIR for the renovations - in order to proceed with any future construction projects.

The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to either confirm or deny the proposed settlement in a closed session on Dec. 13, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, though the details of the settlement will remain confidential until after the meeting.

"I don't see how you can anticipate what environmental effects there might be in the future and that's why they needed an EIR," said Judith Epstein, spokesperson for the Concerned Library Users. "One outcome we were hoping for (with the lawsuit) was an EIR."

The library has been working on renovation plans for the North, Claremont, South and West branches since voters passed Measure FF in 2008, giving the library $26 million in bonds to renovate its facilities. The measure's language has been questioned by several community members because demolition of branches was never clearly specified, only renovation and expansion, according to Peter Warfield, executive director of the Library Users Association.

The unsettled part of the lawsuit objected to the use of the measure funds for the demolition of two existing library branches - the South and West branches - with significant impact on historical resources.

"People may not have voted for Measure FF if it had said that two libraries would be destroyed and rebuilt," Epstein said in an e-mail. "People care about things like that, and they should have had a choice, based on the facts."

However, Donna Corbeil, director of library services, said the library has received "really positive feedback on the demolition" of the two branches and added that the lawsuit is a serious concern and poses a threat to the construction process.

"'Construction' involves demolition, renovation, building," she said. "It never felt ambiguous to me."

In addition to necessary seismic retrofits, the renovations would make both branches ADA accessible and implement the installation of fire sprinklers, according to Linda Schacht Gage, chair of the Neighborhood Library Campaign.

"The outcome of the lawsuit could be that the South and West branches may never get done which is my mind is not acceptable," Gage said.

Gage sits on The Daily Californian's board of directors, which has no control over editorial content.

Tags: BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL, CONCERNED LIBRARY USERS, BERKELEY PUBLIC LIBRARY

Correction: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Linda Gage sits on an advisory for The Daily Californian. In fact, she sits on the board of directors.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Rachel Banning-Lover at [email protected]



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