City Proceeds With Plans to Renovate Public Library Branches Following Settlement

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The city of Berkeley will move forward with its renovation of the Claremont and North branches of the Berkeley Public Library following months of debate and a partial settlement with a group of community members who took issue with the city's plans to demolish the system's two other branches without environmental review.

Although the city will now be required to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to gauge the effects of the proposed demolition of the South and West branches, the settlement does not address the pending suit against the city by the Concerned Library Users regarding the use of Measure FF funds, which the group says should not be used to demolish the buildings.

As a further result of last December's settlement, the city is currently drafting an EIR - which should be ready for approval by the end of the month - before assessing the South and West branches of the library for demolition.

"(The settlement) demonstrates that the city and the library in particular were acting unlawfully according to the zoning requirements necessary for renovations," said Peter Warfield, executive director of the Library Users Association. "The zoning ordinance ... is kind of like writing a blank check for almost anything and is inappropriate."

The settlement also provided that the city award the association $9,000 as recompense for court fees.

City Attorney Zach Cowan could not be reached for comment as of press time.

While the city has now promised to conduct an EIR, the association - which formed in response to the city's highly contentious plans to tear down the libraries as a part of their renovation - may now look elsewhere to prevent the buildings' demolition.

According to attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, who represents the Concerned Library Users, each of the libraries also merits inspection by the Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission, an organization which inspects all buildings slated for demolition that are older than 40 years.

"The South and West branches had some architectural merit and require more time to look at," Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said. Arreguin had opposed the city's July decision to move ahead with the project without environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

However, the section of the association's lawsuit against the city regarding its proposed use of Measure FF funds - $26 million that some contend are to be used solely for renovation, and not demolition, of the libraries - is still pending.

"We shouldn't be using voter-approved funding for projects that weren't included in the ballot measure," Arreguin said. "Even the city attorney agrees with that."

Warfield said the planned renovations would de-emphasize books in the new libraries, especially in the Claremont Branch, where shelf space is slated to increase by one linear foot, according to library documents.

"There have been a number of red herrings that have been thrown out to prevent people from thinking about the most important issues surrounding Measure FF activity," he said.

Despite the controversy surrounding the use of new library space - such as plans to remove some reference desks in all four libraries - the association remains hopeful that the city's renovations will benefit all residents.

"Everyone agrees that the library program needs must be met whether or not it is accomplished through demolition," Brandt-Hawley said. "At the end of the day, everyone wants wonderful libraries."


Contact True Shields at [email protected]

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