Scale down the library proposal Diana Diamond's Blog, posted by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Feb 20, 2008 at 4:56 pm diana diamond is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
As the cost of renovating and redoing three of our libraries in Palo Alto keeps rising, my enthusiasm for the project keeps falling.
Once proposed as a $45 million endeavor for one library, the current estimate to rebuild Mitchell Park Library, add a community center, and renovate the Main and Downtown libraries is now priced at a whopping $81 million.
If residents agree to fund a bond measure, the estimated property-tax increase for the average Palo Alto homeowner is $180. During the 30-year duration of the measure, a homeowner will spend $5,400 in library property taxes. I could buy a lot of books with that amount.
Yet I am in favor of renovating our libraries and want the library bond measure to pass. But I worry that residents will not support a project with an $81 million price tag.
Remember that just four years ago Palo Altans turned down a $49 million Measure D that called for 63,000 square feet of new space — rebuilding Mitchell and the Community Center and renovating Children's Library.
So how did we get to $81 million and what can we do about the cost, since so many of us love libraries?
Well, building costs have gone up — 10 percent a year for the past two years, and the price of steel and cement is spiraling. That alone can't account for this giant escalation.
Another factor: residents were once again asked what they wanted in these libraries and their ideas were incorporated into the library design work. Palo Alto residents have a plethora of ideas.
Council member Yoriko Kishimoto said the cost also went up because polls
indicated there would be more support if the Main and Downtown libraries
were included in the bond-measure package. These two renovations account
for $31 million of the $81 million. Perhaps, but I wonder if people were told the amount of additional money involved with these inclusions.
What would we get for $81 million? At Mitchell, plans call for a new expanded library, up from 9,500 square feet to 36,000, and a 15,000-square-foot Community Center (up from 10,000). Total project cost: about $56 million.
At the Main Library, the proposal calls spending $26.5 million for a 3,700-square-foot addition (from 26,300 to 30,000 square feet), most of which consists of a group-study area, a community meeting room that seats 100, more bathrooms and a new vestibule so the meeting room can be accessed when the library is closed.
The $26.5 million also includes new heating, lighting and a facelift.
The Downtown renovation would cost $4.5 million with no additional space. Technical Services would move to Mitchell, so Downtown would have more room for public space and would get back its small community meeting room.
But my calculator adds $56 million, $26.5 million and $4.5 million and comes up with $87 million — creating an unexplained $6 million gap above the $81 million bond measure.
I know design plans are in place, but it was just a couple of weeks ago that we were hit with the revised $81 million cost estimate.
Might I suggest our council gain resident confidence by scrutinizing the proposed facilities to decide whether all the features in the library plans are really needed — and also ask if we should even renovate the Downtown branch.
For example, the Mitchell Library plans call for a dedicated children's area, an acoustically separated teen area, a technology-training room, group-study rooms and a program room. Other than the training room, is there much here for adults?
If we worry about places for our children to study after school, why not open more after-hours school libraries? Not as much fun as Mitchell, but they would cost a lot less.
Do we need group-study areas at Main, or a teen area? Could the community meeting room be entered without having a new vestibule? Could the money be better spent on, say, books?
I realize that our libraries have not been renovated for 50 years, and I absolutely believe they need redoing. Mitchell and Main are ragged around not only the edges but the insides.
I also understand that what we do now to the libraries will last decades. And I want libraries that we are proud of because they look and feel so good.
Nevertheless, a couple of questions keep nagging at me:
• Why is it that San Jose seems keep its library costs way down? Two years ago San Jose opened a 28,000-square-foot facility that cost $18 million — at the same time Palo Alto's cost estimates for a 30,000-square-foot facility were coming in at $45 million. San Jose recently opened another similar-sized library that cost $21 million.
• I wonder if our Public Works Department sets any limits when asking for bids for the library project. In some communities, when projects go out for bid, developers are told the city can only afford to spend $XX million, and architects submit designs that are within those financial constraints.
Council members were recently told by staff that any changes to the existing design plans would be expensive and cause delays. Council members want a November ballot measure because of escalating construction costs. So they are in a bind.
I don't agree with the staff analysis that changes would be too costly to consider. The goal is to get the measure passed, and if modifications would save residents money, let's modify — so we can get the bonds approved.
Posted by Terry, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 5:05 pm
Diane, do you think we could get Santa Clara County to take over our libraries? While this would take it out of our hands, our track record of maintaining and running them is so poor, they would surely improve on it. They run a first-class system. Also, a third party deciding could get us by the impasse of "keep our branches" vs. "one good library."
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 5:44 pm
Ms Diamond has always had a problem with revenues spent on the Palo Alto Library, no matter its size. Every time she has written about the Palo Alto Library, she criticizes how much it cost - so this is nothing new,
Ms. Diamond claims that the $180 annual contribution per household (actually, the number is roughly $164.00) over 30 years will "buy a lot of books". Her comments show a stunning misunderstanding of the range of servicess provided by public libraries.
Libraries are more than a place to borrow books from. Diana needs to get out and look around, talk to public librarians, and discover that public libraries are fast evolving to information, cultural and community centers - with public value far deeper than the books in their collection (although, the collection is of utmost importance)
Diana also gets it wrong when she said that the "plethora" of ideas suggested by the community for the library were included in the current plan. That's nonsense. In fact, this is a parred-down plan, designed to address the minimum needs of our public library system.
Diana is mistaken about the costs at Main. Most of the cost goes into renovation of a badly dilapidated space.
The entire system has been neglected, for years. We need to repair it now, so it won't cost even more, later.
As for opening libraries after school hours, PAUSD library collections are woefully lacking due to budget cuts.
Diana goes about doing cost comparisons with other cities, based solely on square footage costs, without noting that those buildings do not have the necessary infrastructure needs of a a library like Mitchell, which would be acting as the primary hub of our system. Her diligence on the facts is, unfortunately, less-than-desirable for someone who is supposed to be providing an alternate voice.
What Diana doesn't seem to understand is that everyone involved - citizens, the Library Commission, City Council, library staff, and many, many others have queried,, and polled, and lobbied, and re-visited everything she suggests.
The library plan that we have now is a good one; ;I suggest we leave it alone, rather than confuse the voters, as some journalists and local naysayers did when Measure D came along.
We lost Measure D largely on the basis of misinformation; let's not have that happen again.
Posted by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Feb 20, 2008 at 6:09 pm diana diamond is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I have had a couple of people suggest that we look at the county system, which is good, and which may be cheaper. I do think our own library system here in Palo Alto has been a source of pride and joy for a long time -- our per capita book borrowing rate has always been a symbol of what our community is all about . We may experience a lot of community angst about going into the county system. Nevertheless, it MAY be a topic worth exploring.
And Mike -- I do not think my comments show any "stunning misunderstanding" about the range of services the libraries offer. If you are suggesting they are serving as community centers to meet and relax, fine. I can understand that -- but I also have this perception that libraries are about reading books -- and learning. Or has the nature of a library changed for you?
And nowhere in your posting do you explain why the jump from $45 million to $81 million should be simply accepted.
As I said in my posting, I do support our libraries and I believe we need to refurbish and renovate our libraries.
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 6:18 pm
After reading the description of the proposed Mitchell Park Library, it would seem the emphasis is on student study centers, teen meeting places, etc. Why not have these study halls at the high school and grade school libraries? What happened to the concept of libraries - e.g. books? Just go to the Main Library after school is out - it's a noisy chaotic zoo.
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 6:18 pm
After reading the description of the proposed Mitchell Park Library, it would seem the emphasis is on student study centers, teen meeting places, etc. Why not have these study halls at the high school and grade school libraries? What happened to the concept of libraries - e.g. books? Just go to the Main Library after school is out - it's a noisy chaotic zoo.
Posted by Eric, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 7:09 pm
Unfortunately, our City Council is making all the same mistakes they made with Measure D in 2002.
Council has designed a bond measure by Committee. They have gone out and asked everyone for their wish list of "wants" and incorporated all the suggestions into the three libraries. Consequently, we have an over-bloated, overpriced bond measure with every conceivable want included.
What they should have done is set a price level, say $60,000, and designed a bond measure which would not exceed that amount. That way the cost would have been kept in bounds, and we would have ended up with only real "needs"
Is this bond measure doomed to failure? - probably.
Posted by John, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 9:18 pm
This entire library debacle is a reflection of adults acting like teenagers.
We have had two head librarians tell us that consolidation of the branch system into a single main library is the way to proceed. Unfortunately, the special interst groups, like the so-called "friends" of the libraries have undercut this sound advice.
We should continue to vote down bond issues that are unsound, like this one. We will, eventually, get a rational proposal that we can support.
Posted by rick, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 10:13 pm
I supported the last library bond measure even though I thought it was to much of a "Show-Place" for the architect or a show off place for them. High ceilings, vast windows, etc.. Do we need a "Grand Palace library? The other cities build basic structures to keep the price down I believe. We probably need generous benefactors if we build what is planned.
Also are the hundreds of corporations in the city going to be paying a tax to help pay for this or is it going to be on the ballot so only homeowners will be taxed? This wouldn't suprise me if this was the case.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 10:28 pm
For those who think that the school libraries should be open after school for study hall and homework centers, there are a couple of comments. In an ideal world, that would be great. However, the schools are also strapped for money. Yes, they may be able to open for an hour after school for homework habitat or something similar, but they can't stay open as long as the public libraries. Personally, I would like the libraries to stay open longer as 6.00 pm is too early on a week night for many of us. However, if we had the money to keep the school libraries open, that would only be part of the problem. We need libraries with internet access and printing facilities for a large number of students. Many students do not have access at home and need good facilities. Yes, I do know that many of the students at the libraries are watching Youtube, playing games, or spending time on Facebook, but who is to say that they would be better off playing in the streets until their parents get home from work?
Libraries, unfortunately you may say, take the slack where schools and homes end. For many, their time in the library after school is their homework and or hangout time. It is safe and they are not up to mischief.
Our libraries need to be a service for everyone and if we have a library fairly near a middle school, then we should be glad that the kids use it.
Posted by Anon, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 10:56 pm
Regarding those estimates, they are way high and padded with "Palo Alto Process" and the like.
A close friend is looking at tearing down his house and building a new 3500 sq ft house. The estimates he has from several contractors and architects say that this should cost roughly $800k-$900k in 2009 ($257/sq ft on the high side).
The Mitchell Park Library & Community center proposals (note: a community center is not a library) amount to 46,000 sq ft, and the price is $56 million. That's a cost of $1217/sq ft.
Of course, I'm no architect/builder, but it seems like we're being taken to the cleaners. The San Jose library opened in 2003 was $177 million and 475,000-square-foot (source: Web Link), for a cost per foot of $373. Even with 10%/yr inflation, that's nowhere near the $1217 Palo Alto price. There is simply no justification for our library costing triple per square foot than the San Jose library. NONE.
Here's another quote where San Jose is spending $212 million over 10 years, to build six new and 14 expanded libraries! How are we spending over 1/3 the amount that San Jose is, for 1/6 the new libraries and ~1/5 the expanded or remodeled ones?
I'm a Palo Alto taxpayer, homeowner, and voter. There's no way I'm voting for an unlimited spending bond for our city to spend triple what it needs to on something.
Let's look at the downtown library - $4.6 million for mostly cosmetic upgrades. Are you kidding? That should be enough money to completely rebuild such a small facility. At a middle-ground $500/sq foot (well beyond what San Jose spends), $4.6 million should buy us a 23000 square foot facility, far larger than the current downtown branch. In short, this is crazy. Let's do a $250,000 upgrade to the downtown branch - heck I live right near it and I can't see spending $4.6 million on cosmetics alone. Might as well tear down and rebuild.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 11:10 pm
Diana Diamond: "And nowhere in your posting do you explain why the jump from $45 million to $81 million should be simply accepted."
That's easy. Planning for Measure D anticipated the $45M for Mitchell. That's a given.
It's also a given that since that time, construction inflation has run up costs by 12-18% per YEAR, depending on who you're talking to.
Let's go with the low end of that number - i.e. 12% - and apply it to the $45M Measure D estimate, which was for Mitchell (with the Art Center addendum). 12% of $45M = $5.4 per annum, *compounded*. That's right, the 12% construction inflation number *compounds*, over years. That's why delay in repairing our library (and infrastructure) has been so devastating to our future.
Here's the calculation.
$45M x $5.4 x 8 years (compounded) = $111.42M
And yet, we're getting a badly needed rebuild of Mitchell Park Library *and* Recreation Center, *and* a much needed redo of Main and Downtown for ****$30 MILLION LESS*** than the compounded opportunity cost losses we have experienced from our failure to pass Measure D.
I want to emphasis that this is an EXCEPTIONAL accomplishment. We're getting more library infrastructure repaired, for **28%* less than the MOST CONSERVATIVE estimates of compounded construction inflation would dictate. Remember, this is a CONSERVATIVE estimate of comparative savings. If we had gone to the mean increase in cost due to construction inflation, it would be an even larger saving (not to mention the full estimates, using 18% as a base compound multiplier).
This, alone, is an indicator of the exceptional diligence that was done in planning and costing out our repair of library infrastructure.
There is simply no other way to say it: Palo Alto policy makers have found a way to repair our libraries, for FAR LESS relative cost in 2008, than we would have in 2002. That's an AMAZING accomplishment!
Our citizens are being made aware of this exceptional accomplishment, and how their city has worked to not only provide them with a Library that will bring even MORE community benefit, but have managed to do it for FAR less than one would otherwise thought possible.
btw, you'll note that our construction per sq. ft. figures are right in the middle of the pack, compared to new library construction planned in the Bay Area.
Posted by Anon, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 11:14 pm
Can you please site some sources showing our construction costs per sq ft being anywhere near reasonable? Last I checked, they were at least double the cost of other comparable libraries being constructed in the area. See my sources above...
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2008 at 11:29 pm
Anon, at the last City Council meeting that dealt with the library, a few weeks ago, our staff and library consultant showed a full range of regional library rebuilds in the Bay Area. I don't remember the exact numbers, but the chart clearly showed the Palo alto Library being almost exactly in between the highest and lowest per sq ft build out cost.
Given all that we are doing, and the great benefit this will have to our city, we should take this opportunity now, and pass the library bond in November.
Posted by Mike, meet John, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 12:43 am
“We have had two head librarians tell us that consolidation of the branch system into a single main library is the way to proceed. Unfortunately, the special interst groups, like the so-called "friends" of the libraries have undercut this sound advice.”
John of College Terrace, may I introduce you to Mike of College Terrace? He insists that no one in his neighborhood could possibly be against closing the CT branch. I would like him to know of you. Maybe you've seen him around in your neighborhood? You'll recognize Mike by his city issued pom-poms.
Posted by sigh, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 2:44 pm
Anon, if you've followed the library discussions on the forums, you'd realize that Mike never provides links to back up any of his facts. (Unless, of course, you consider links to 3 of the infamous 23 reports!).
Mike has always been very big on claims and light on actual detail. It's the hyperbole and put down attempts he goes for rather than providing actual information. Ironic, I know, given his last comment in one of the posts above.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 2:45 pm
MmJ, "“We have had two head librarians tell us that consolidation of the branch system into a single main library is the way to proceed."
Yours is a grossly inaccurate statement.
Both prior librarians clearly stated that unless funds were raised to repair dilapidated infrastructure, our only choice was to go forward with one library. That was a shot across the "policy bow", and made Council wake up and listen, Thus, the current effort, to bring our entire system up to date, as per the will of the people.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 2:47 pm
sigh, I'm waiting for Diana's response to my last post, which clearly shows the current effort coming in at 28% LESS than one would project. I think you're the one who has to bone up on the numbers, because on that question, Diana's objection in dead in the water..
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 3:42 pm
Back to the idea of using the school libraries instead of Mitchell Park and Main - all we need is money for one staff person to remain until 6pm. It doesn't need to be a teacher or librarian, it can be an aide as long as they are a PAUSD employee. At the top of the aide pay scale, it would cost about $11K per school to keep the libaries open for 3 additional hours per day.
Posted by Mike, meet John, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 4:04 pm
"Yours is a grossly inaccurate statement."
er, if you read between the quotes you'd notice that this is not my statement. It's your College Terrace neighbor's statement. You keep hounding that NO ONE in College Terrace would give up the precious little CT branch. Not so. Meet John.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 5:06 pm
RS:"you are assuming that the measure D, 45M figure was not too high a figure then. Perhaps it was too much for people to swallow and thats why it got voted down."
Excuses, excuses. You look a gift horse in the mouth, and still you thinkn of excuses why xyz shouldn't happen. It's like a mantra with the naysayers.
Like Gilda Radner used to say - referring to those naysayers in Palo Alto who always find a way to delay...."IT'S ALWAY'S SOMETHING!"
The naysayers on these infrastructure threads always want to dig, deep, to find that "something" that will hurt our city's future prospects - and will stop at nothing to help our city decay, right in front of our eyes.
We're going to blow right by you this time, one way, or another.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2008 at 8:04 pm
When my first child started elementary school, we had full time aides in the classroom for most of the day, most of the week. Now the amount of aides is minimal. We had playground staff that came in every lunch time for supervision, now the teachers have to rotate and eat their lunch while supervising playground. We had art teachers that came in once a week, now the art teachers are only for those who have been teaching for less than three years.
I am not a numbers person, but I can see when there is less money available for our schools. Our schools are also growing in populations and we have spent money on portables and other classroom equipment for this increase as well as the smaller class sizes. We also need to spend money for updating technology at an ever increasing rate, something that was not necessary 10 years ago.
We are a basic aid district which means that regardless of how many students we have, the amount of money available is still the same.
I could go on, but if you know anything about our schools, you will see that money is a biggie. We are forever having fund raisers and begging letters from PIE. Any time anything is suggested, the cost is always the first argument.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 9:10 am
Dear Parent of Another Neighborhood - All the schools in PAUSD receive from PiE to help support additional staffing at the school sites. Its distributed on a per student basis (larger school get more). It is the principals choice how to spend it. Some school spend it on aides, some on art, some on additional librarian time, some on playground supervisiors, some on computers, etc. Talk to your principal.
Posted by k, a librarian, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 2:20 pm
Thank you, Diana Diamond, once again you are right on. If we have any hope of ever moving ahead and improving our city library system I agree some items you noted sure need to be clarified. I support Main, Mitchell (reasonable renovations/additions) and keeping Children's, of course. I agree, too, city staff should explore joining the Santa Clara County Library System.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 3:06 pm
k, Every single one of Diana's "items" has was considered during library diligence.
And, she keeps objecting to cost when in fact we are actually building the library for relatively LESS cost than the Measure D proposal, taking into consideration construction inflation.
Diana has always had a problem with the library; check out the PA Daily and Weekly archives. She's one of the ctitics who say "I love libraries", and then goes about nitpicking every plan to death and causing *delay*.
I can understand that some residents may have quibbles about the final plan, but there is a core group of naysayers who consistently come out against infrastructure improvement. We need to blow right past this kind of obfuscation.
As per my post above, in case Diana hasn't noticed, the primary contributing factor to cost increases is construction inflation.
Every year that we waste from obsessive libertarian nitpicking, and forcing redos, is costing our city MILLIONS in additional construction cost.
Diana seems only to understand the cost equation, and refuses to see the benefit equation. She - and most other naysayers on city infrastructure - have a "poor man's view" of the world.
A city looking toward the future should not pay close attention to those who keep saying "we can't". We need different voices, and new ideas - instead of the same old whining that leads to delay, urban decay, resident dissension, and more cost from inflation.
Let's get on with it! We're going to pass that bond. I predict 68-72% "YES" on the library bond. Yeah, Library!
Posted by Curt, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 3:59 pm
The problem is that the library special interest group demands an unreasonalbe Cadillac approach across town. We have had a couple of top libray people tell us that we need consolidation. The library group said, "NO!, we want it all!".
Compare and contrast that with the sport field group. They asked for small things, tried to be cooperative, and actually used the vacuum created by the previous library defeat to promote their cause in a wise way. They are making slow gains, with little cost to Palo Alto. That beautiful new field at the corner of El Camino and Page Mill was paid for, largely, by Stanford. The library group should use their model. There was a time when the various sport groups could hardly agree on the time of day. They got together, buried the axe, and decided to proceed slowly. Paul Losch could probably tell you something about this, because he was part of it.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 4:49 pm
Sport group?? This is the LIBRARY!!
Curt, read the polls - our residents want the current plan; also, consider that Measure D earned 62+% of the vote - this vote will far exceed that number; also, consider that this is a DEAL, because it's cheaper than it would have been (in relative dollars + construction inflation) in 2002. We're getting MORE, for LESS!!!
btw, this plan is no Cadillac; it's a Prius, on a diet.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 5:48 pm
The library survey that I am aware of failed to ask the one important question. Would the survey responder be willing to pay more for expanded services? The problem is a lot of people will never be satiated if there is no price tag. This is pretty fundimental economics. Once there is a price, elasticity comes into play. The consumer starts to trade off one thing vs another. Kind of like, I could buy a Telsa for 100k, or I could have a Prius and buy a whole bunch of other fun toys with the remaining 70k.
You can continue to claim this is a done deal, but if it was then why is the vote being postponed? The city council realizes that this needs to communicate to the voters why that price tag is justified if they hope to pass this bond.
Maybe they can, maybe they can't. I look forward to what they have to say.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 5:52 pm
Libraries are an endangered species in Palo Alto; there has been very little attention paid to their repair. They need to be repaired (and in the case of Mitchell, rebuilt).
Sport fields are important, too - - "a sound mind in a sound body", and all that. However, we are in much more dire need of library repair than we are of sport fields.
Also, the ideas you have for trashing years of diligence and community input, to change the entire library initiative based on a model that Stanford used for sport fields, is one I find severely lacking, to say the least.
Posted by pa library user, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 6:07 pm
I like the idea of figuring out what we can afford, then building with that in mind. Kind-of like real people do - you may want a 6 bedroom house, but can only afford a 3 bedroom. Still enough to house your family though.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 7:33 pm
If this were a business looking for additional funding, there would be some metrics to consider, and comparison to the rest of the market, in this case other libraries. I think in the past I have seen some information on this for other various Bay Area libraries.
Cost per item loaned, and cost per service delivered as a transaction (research request) come to mind.
It has been a while, but it seems that there was a vast disparity in these figures between Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Berkeley (the latter way high.)
Boondoggles show up as extreme high end on cost metrics. Presumably due to either wages/benefits or infrastructure cost, or very low usage that does not bewgin to cover the base cost. The cost/service delivered is the real metric. Not whether we have created a monument to library science.
Where do we in Palo Alto stand on current cost metrics, and projected metrics? This is not funded by a bottomless resource.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2008 at 10:22 pm
"Where do we in Palo Alto stand on current cost metrics, and projected metrics? "
Our costs are very competitive, especially when one considers the vale we receive from our libraries. In fact, we actually come out on the "plus" side when we invest in libraries, as evidenced by some very good studies on this matter.
23 municipal studies clearly indicate that public libraries pay back a positive return on public investment.
Let me ask you a question: "What benefits have you measured that are provided by our public library?" I'm interested in your response.
Posted by special interests at work, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2008 at 1:03 pm
pa library user, all would fail.
The problem is that you have the pro-branch lobby that won't accept a bond measure unless branches are included. On the other you have the pro-central lobby that won't accept a bond unless it deals with one of the two main libraries. Unless you can satisfy both of these groups, the other will vote no out of spite.
That is why the downtown library is tacked on in this bond, to try and satisfy the pro-branch lobby and hopefully get enough to back the bond. Most likely with a promise of further branch improvements.
You'd think that everyone would like to see Mitchell get sorted out regardless of whether they are pro-central or pro-branch. That was considered the compromise when it was initially discussed. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and the pro-branch is ready to risk the bond unless they get a bone thrown to them.
Posted by Sad, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2008 at 5:54 pm
We started going to Los Altos library a year ago, having gotten frustrated with the PA libraries. We have to drive either place, as do most PA people.
At this point, we can't see why to invest additional tax dollars in PA libraries; the LA library is fine for us and we don't see why PA's would even be as good, given the track record of poor maintenance, weak collections, just bad management.
We're big fans of libraries (we go as a family every week), but just don't see the value of pouring money in PA. So we'll vote no on a bond when it comes. Sad.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2008 at 11:58 pm
RS, A majority of Palo Altans said they will support a library bond. That's clearly shown in the polling. Once the facts are presented by the city to ALL Palo Altans, followed up by independent promotional efforts - this is all in the process of happening - a landslide in favor of the library will ensue, in November. I predict 69-72%.
Posted by mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 12:07 am
I am with "Sad" - we started going to Los Altos library about 4 years ago. Came back recently because of the new children's library and quickly realized why we left!
I think we should concentrate on making a nice community center and library at Mitchell and a really good Main library renovation. We should sell the downtown library property to help pay for it. Better to do two libraries really well than three so-so for way too much money. No chance that will happen, so I feel free to suggest it. (I haven't forgotten children's, which has been nicely renovated and which of course we should support.)
The county library system really is superior, better policies, facilities, service, collection. I'm not sure it's so easy to join up, though.
Posted by Kate, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 10:12 am
Mike - College Terrace. Is there anything you don't have an opinion about? But it always seems to be about more building, bringing more people into Palo Alto, bigger this and bigger that. With so many opinions on how things should be done, why don't you run for Council next time - unless you already have - OR....you are already on it.
Posted by Carol Gilbert, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 11:12 am
As usual, you are right. It is tough to get bonds passed. You have to go for a bond that you think can be passed.
Frankly, if given my druthers, I would have had the Palo Alto City Libraries join the Santa Clara County System. They seem to know how to get things done. All of the libraries within that system beat the heck out of ours. Note: Saratoga's circulation is easily comparable to Palo Alto's. We got a new library second to none and also get to take advantage of that system's large scale.
“Future presentations will also showcase the work of Oakland-based The Lew Edwards Group, who the city hired to create publicity materials, including a video depicting current condition of the libraries… Utility-bill inserts, information on the city's Web site and other projects are also planned…. The city is paying $65,000 for work between July 2007 and November 2008.
“According to state law, city officials (staff and council members) cannot use city money to advocate for or against a ballot measure, Senior Assistant City Attorney Cara Silver said."
Why would money be spent on presentations other than to convince us to vote for the bond? This is a very fine line. Seems like the only time the city hires consultants to do videos and presentations is to give us a sales pitch when there’s a bond issue on the ballot.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm
Pat is quoted as saying...
"Why would money be spent on presentations other than to convince us to vote for the bond?"
The effort is purely educational, and pointed toward informing Palo Alto residents about findings that result from very long city-mandated-and-approved diligence on our libraries - by the LAC, City Council, consultants, etc.
All presentations will present nothing more than facts discovered over several years about the base condition of the library, the details of the current library plan, and so on.
Our citizens have paid for the polling and other diligence; they deserve to have full knowledge of the facts emanating from that diligence, as they paid for it.
There has been concerted effort - and much effort - made to make sure that no promotion is done by the city.
I have heard of promotional efforts separate from the educational efforts being made, and to be made. The latter will not be city-funded, nor will the city play any official part in them.
Posted by JA3+, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 3:19 pm
"RS, A majority of Palo Altans said they will support a library bond. That's clearly shown in the polling. Once the facts are presented by the city to ALL Palo Altans, followed up by independent promotional efforts - this is all in the process of happening - a landslide in favor of the library will ensue, in November. I predict 69-72%."
A political prediction, with a rather tight range! You are quite confident, indeed.
A key point here, though: this is politics; you must convince the electorate to vote in your favor. How can anyone be confident without a detailed poll [or polls] completed close to the election?; so much may change.
I'll take the other side of the coin here, Mike: I predict the bond measure -- as presently contemplated -- will fail. I further predict it will not be close.
I readily admit I may be wrong with such prediction; but, I believe there is some reason to believe I have a good shot at a correct prediction here.
In my opinion, there is little sense here of financial prudence; there is little sense here of tough financial leadership; ; there is little sense here of 'making the tough decisions'; and there is little sense here of 'using other people's money' - no sense of tapping private funding like Children's Library or tapping State funds as the City of San Mateo so wisely did.
Instead, there is too much sense of 'Committee-creep', wherein an esteemed group comes up with a large-scale plan, with little attention to money or costs.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 6:23 pm
JA3+: " there is little sense here of financial prudence; there is little sense here of tough financial leadership; ; there is little sense here of 'making the tough decisions'; and there is little sense here of 'using other people's money' - no sense of tapping private funding like Children's Library or tapping State funds as the City of San Mateo so wisely did."
You must be kidding; the library is coming in at 28% LESS than it would have, if we allow for normal construction inflation; the City Council and LAC have used community inputs to make many compromises in the original plan; also, private efforts are under way.
All of these things are being made clear to the public - in one way or another. btw, my 69-72% projection is conservative, based on what I'm hearing around town. Either way, our library is going to be updated,, and brought up to speed, no matter what local naysayers claim - they've had their shot, and lost.
Posted by JA3+, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 7:55 pm
In my opinion, stridency -- whether by a campaign aide or a forum writer -- is, often times, inversely proportionate to the logic and reason underlying the argument at hand.
The use of rather strong language -- perhaps sometimes coupled with a denigrating tone -- does not strengthen one's argument.
Several posters have written about the efficient use of financial resources by other municipalities; why not here?; why could not Palo Alto use this opportunity to clearly demonstrate an financially efficient approach to library renovation?
What is 'golden' about the current proposal?
A savvy leader or leaders might easily step in here with a reduced cost proposal; at stake is a bond measure in an economy which, at present, seems burdened by certain negative news.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2008 at 8:35 pm
JA3+: "In my opinion, stridency -- whether by a campaign aide or a forum writer -- is, often times, inversely proportionate to the logic and reason underlying the argument at hand."
In my opinion, the persistent demand to make a municipality "prove" beyond a shadow of any doubt (no matter who is raising the doubt) the "validity" of expenditures that it has chosen to make - especially after undergoing a lengthly, open process to approve those expenditures, smacks of passive-aggressiveness in the extreme...including the rather ttransparent and disingenuous insinuation that anyone who persistently resists these seeming obsessive demands for "proof" is "strident". Nice try.
There are roundabout ways to call someone a name - one is by attaching a quality to that persons statements, writings, etc. That's what you're doing.
There are also ways to call a spade a spade - one is by refusing to knuckle under to naysayers who will do anything, using any tactic, to satisfy their narrow view of municipal sustainability. That's what I'm doing.
Being "nice" to core naysayers has gotten this city in trouble. We're paying for that now, even as the naysaying group, who helped defeat the last library bond (with lies) now complain about an increase in price that THEY caused (Diana Diamond among them) Naysaying guys, gals - the jig is up!
Palo Alto is finished with "further diligence", and "proofs", and more delay. Perhaps a minor change here and there, to tweak the already approved library play - but no more delay, no more obfuscation, no more knuckling under to those whose determined efforts to keep out city from having the library it deserves.
That's the way it is, until we get to the polls in November. Diana and the rest of the 75 or so core naysayers in town had best adapt, get out of the way, and let Palo Altans have what they say they want.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2008 at 2:16 am
Citizen, Unfortunately, you, too, are out of step with Palo alto's majority. You might avail yourself of excellent research that shows the Googling generation rather incapable of doing deep, primary source research. The absence of your having done that hat may explain how you're missing the fact that libraries are evolving; they are not only centers of information and media distribution, but provide new, valuable contexts for information - in addition to a host of other benefits that provide positive returns on taxpayer dollars.
Posted by James, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2008 at 4:49 pm
"Many people in this forum change their identities on solitary threads, to make it appear that there is more objection to certain things than there really is. I know this for a fact, because I have run some pretty sophisticated content analysis algorithms on what people say here."
How amazing, Mod Points, Jeremy Loski, Mike (all the same person)!
"Whether or not you agree with the studies - studies designed by prominent econometricians and demographers, and modeled with stark conservatism - they do show a return in value for communities that results in a positive return on investment for tax dollars spent."
"In all, Palo Alto's library delivers a better library *experience* than most others - especially when considers the above factors. Once we get Mitchell rebuilt, and the rest of the system up to par, we will have a library system that's paying back a positive ROI to the community (for tax dollars expended)"
"Palo Alto receives a positive return on investment, in terms of benefits derived, from every dollar we spend on libraries. This is true of probably all public libraries, as demonstrated clearly in 23 municipal studies, to date."
"I would urge all who are interested in real returns on taxpayer dollars spent, and how libraries enable that, to read the following link; it clearly shows that taxpayer investment in libraries leads to a *positive* return to community, in terms of real dollar payback."
Mike, run your pretty sophisticated content analysis algorithms over that.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 25, 2008 at 5:53 pm
No one’s posts are as entertaining as yours. You know so many things “for a fact,” but you never share your facts with the rest of us poor stupid souls.
If you “know who the multiple identity people on this thread are (there are perhaps 3-4 of them, tops)” and you “don't want to let them get away with that,” why don’t you blow their cover? Or at least share your sophisticated algorithms with us so we can figure it out for ourselves?
Posted by Rajan, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 1:21 pm
Just using the library and seeing other libraries is frustrating because we have so many libraries here that could be better. the people here don't know their treasure. they need to keep it and protect it. how silly to argue against a library.i have never seen this in all my traveling and living
Posted by too many branches, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 1:44 pm
Rajan, no one is "arguing against a library." They are arguing against fiscal irresponsibility. Unfortunately, I think the bond has a chance because enough people view it as simplistically as "a vote against the bond is a vote against the library."
Have you visited libraries in neighboring cities? They are far superior to ours because those cities don't have FIVE branches to support and maintain. Furthermore, those cities tend to get more bang for their bucks when they do improvements, unlike the City of Palo Alto which thinks we're a bunch of bottomless money pits.
Trim a few branches & trim the bond to a reasonable, competitive amount and it will fly through with a majority vote. The minority 'no' votes will consist of a few - not all - immediate neighbors of the trimmed branches.
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 2:13 pm
I dont think most are that pointing out the flaws in this plan are arguing against a library project. I think most are arguing against this library project.
Libraries are good things. I think even Mike would agree that there is a price tag too high to pay for a library project. We just differ on what that amount is. For me, 81 million is too high, for Mike its not.
To get this bond measure to pass 2/3s or voters need to agree that 81 million is not too high. I dont think the voters will, Mike disagrees. I see surveys that show this measure will fail. Mike says there are surveys that show he is right. The one's I have seen are on the friends of the library web page and the measure D failure iteself. Maybe Mike can supply pointers to the ones he quotes.
Personally I think the right strategy is to lower the cost of the project to get voter approval. Mike thinks thats not required as he is of the belief there is enough community support for the 81 million dollar plan.
Mike has failed to convince the people that think this project is too large. We have failed to convince Mike there is a problem with his logic.
Will the bond pass? The only opinion that matters will be expressed in November.
Posted by Anon, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 2:24 pm
Thanks "we need new libraries desperately", for the timely and useful links to real information.
Specifically, Redwood Shores is building a 21,500 square foot library for $16.9M, at a cost per sq ft of $786. Estimated completion is June of this 2008. At that price-per-sq-ft, and with the proposed 36,000 sq ft for the new Mitchell Park library, the cost would be *only* $28.3M. How did we get from $28.3M up to $81M?
I live close to the Downtown branch, and yes would like a simple $250k cosmetic upgrade, but get serious. Is this a library bond, or a library + community center + green building research + overpaid cosmetic changes + Palo Alto process + ??? bond?
Beyond the base cost of actually building a new Mitchell Park library, have we applied for state Grants and corporate backing? I see nothing wrong with accepting monies from the charitable foundations of local tech giants or otherwise.
I agree that our libraries need desperate improvements. I also know that some neighborhoods of our city need even more desperate improvements to their storm drains, which cause streets to flood on even the lightest of rains. Should I prioritize $86M for what looks like a boondoggle, with over 50% being spent on "not the top priority", over fixing my flooding street? If so, you'll need to convince me.
To get *a* bond passed, you'll have to convince a 2/3 majority that this is in their interest. The way I see it, the current bond has ~$40M for useful, if not tangential updates to libraries and the community center I'll never use. It also has another $40M on PA process, green tech, and simple waste. Fix that, and you've got my vote.
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm
I agree that our city needs to improve the libraries and have a new safety building. But we need to carefully consider the long term financial debts to our city. I personally think that the price tag is way over the mark on all of these proposed projects. The commissions need to present financially acceptable costs to get these bonds passed. The costs of these projects seem so high for a small city like ours. Please remember that we are also trying to get a school bond passed. For many of us parents who have recently purchased homes, we are uncertain if we would be able to afford any further increase in taxes. We also just learned that our utility (gas) rates will increase a lot next year. Let's try to be reasonable here, for the families who pay a fortune in property taxes and mortgage payments. We don't want to pass this huge debt to our children. If some families can not afford to live here, they may move to surrounding cities or simply leave. In the future, it may be hard to find families who can afford the expensive homes here. The higher property taxes, water rates, utility rates, and other charges may deter many from living here.
Higher rates on water, utilities, and property taxes may deter people from moving here more than having substandard
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 5:45 pm
Parent, I appreciate your concern, and share some of it. That said, you will be relieved to learn that there are 23 municipal studies clearly showing that every dollar you spend for public libraries will return more than that dollar to your pocketbook. the range of payback in the cities studied, thus far, is $1.30 - $4.60 return, per dollar invested.
So, let's go with the lowest number in that range. Let's see:
$81M x 1.30 = $105.3M = a PROFIT of $24.3M
In percentages, that's a 30% return. Given the estimated cost per year, per household, of $165, we arrive at $165 x 1.30% ROI = $214.50 - $165 = $39.50 per household.
Over 30 years (the life of the bond), we arrive at $1185.00.
So, we have households PROFITING to the tune of $39.50 every year for their $165 investment in the library. What a deal!!! We get a new library, and make a profit!!
I dare say that if we had good metrics to measure the value of Public Safety services, the payback would even be higher.
We really need to reframe the municipal cost argument, to one of municipal investment. This is what we're missing for some municipal services. We *do* have these numbers for libraries, however.
Thus, yet one more reason to vote to fix our dilapidated library system.
Also, I note that Diana has failed to respond to the fact that we're getting what should have been a $111.5M library rebuild for only $81M!!!!
Why doesn't Diana congratulate those who have worked to bring costs down, so that we can get the very best library, allowing for fiscal constraint.
I don't think Diana is a really lover of libraries, other than that she loves to write about investing in them in a way that serves her just-under-the-surface libertarian agenda.
I respect that difference, but it's not a sustainable way forward.
Posted by details, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 6:45 pm
Hey, Mike, you seem to know about this. Can you respond to Anon's post about the square footage cost?
"Specifically, Redwood Shores is building a 21,500 square foot library for $16.9M, at a cost per sq ft of $786. Estimated completion is June of this 2008. At that price-per-sq-ft, and with the proposed 36,000 sq ft for the new Mitchell Park library, the cost would be *only* $28.3M. How did we get from $28.3M up to $81M?"
Posted by not again, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 8:15 pm
"there are 23 municipal studies clearly showing that every dollar you spend for public libraries will return more than that dollar to your pocketbook."
No. This is false, and an intentionally misleading statement. The studies do not show that anything at all is returned to your pocket book, as you yourself have explained.
The studies show that by an outlandish measure of return, there is a big one. But the measure is not money in your pocketbook. It is what media would cost if all the people who borrowed the media instead bought it at a retail price. That would not happen, and the measure of return used in these studies is so bogus that they can only be seen as lies. It also ignores the fact that local bookstores would benefit by this amount, providing as much return to the community by not investing in the libraries as by investing in them!
In fact, these studies show nothing. Zip. Nada. Even multipliers of zero will get you nothing. And while *you* can't prove a zero, these studies do.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:21 pm
One more thing, about the municipal library studies. I get a kick out of people saying these studies don't prove anything, when in fact all 23 municipalities that took these studies say the results figured prominently in their efforts to pass bonds.
There were **23** well-controlled studies, designed by conservative econometricians and demographers (some of these studies even won awards) that plainly show a very positive result for library investment.
I have yet to see any of the naysayers here show results to the contrary for these studies, or do their own studies. Really, all they present is a lot of hot air.
Like the example that "not again" used above, about book stores. How could we possibly control where our citizens buy books - -would "not again" keep tabs on peoplpe who buy books at Amazon, or Kepler's - instead of local stores? So, not again's example is pretty lame.
Also, it's a fact that increased library use *stinulates* book sales. So, this is yet ANOTHER unmeasured benefit to our community, re: sales tax revenues from increased book and media sales.
There are so many hard metric and intangible benefits to our library system, with so many others not yet brought forward, it makes one wonder why anyone would object to our being the library up to speed.
The naysayers lost this dabate just after the 2002 failure to pass Measure D, which was turned back due to last minute tricks and distortions (posters with lies placed on doorsteps, at the last minute - and other nefarious actions).
That may happen again, but it won't work this time, because ALL of the voting public is going to know the facts, and will be prepared to deal with distortion.
Posted by John, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:31 pm
As usual, you ignore the FACT that two previous top PA librarians said that we need to consolidate the branch system into a main library. They both got thumped by the pressure from the loonies, who demanded everything, at top dollar.
I seriously doubt that this bond issue will end up any different than the previous one. I could be wrong, of course, but a defeat of this turkey will send a very healthy message to our council, and it might even put us all on a much better track...one leading to a truly great main library.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:34 pm
Incredibly, Mike actually believes that “every dollar you spend for public libraries will return more than that dollar to your pocketbook.”
It defies logic to imagine a library bond returning 30% to our pockets – or to the city’s coffers. And that is NOT what the studies show. If they did, we’d all be begging for more and bigger bonds and waiting for our $1185 checks!
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:49 pm
John: "As usual, you ignore the FACT that two previous top PA librarians said that we need to consolidate the branch system into a main library. They both got thumped by the pressure from the loonies, who demanded everything, at top dollar.
Not true. Both of those librarians rescinded their "main library" positions, after a thorough examination of the value of the branch system, and teh community's clear statements about a preference for that system.
btw, both librarians left of their own accord, to pursue personal dreams. They were not "drummed out of town". It's amusing to read your distortions. Where do you dig this stuff up, anyway?
Posted by RS, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 10:27 pm
ok, business 101, look up "law of diminishing returns".
The system is not linear, as you put more and more resources into it, you get less and less of a percentage return. So the assumption that you are making is if we put N per month in, we will always get 1.3N back in savings by using the library resources instead of buying them is flawed.
If this system was linear, it stands to reason that we should increase the bond and tax outselves to wealth.
Posted by I'm rich, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2008 at 11:02 pm
More Business 101: If you had to produce your own electricity it would cost you more than paying for utilities. If you had to weave your own cloth and sew your own clothing it would cost you more. If you cook your own meals it costs you more than eating in a restaurant.
Posted by JA3+, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2008 at 9:13 am
"As the enlightened council showed when it used creativity in financing the public safety upgrades with COP's, there are ways of circumventing the naysayers who have been holding up progress in town...One way or another, we'll have what we want."
If true, why post?
To restate your belief, you seem to say, if the bonds fail, COPs are a certainty; specifically, you mention, '(o)ne way or another, we'll have what we want'.
If so, then a vote of the public has no weight; if the bonds fail to win the needed pluarality, then the Palo Alto City Council, you believe, will certainly step in with additional COPs.
If true, why post here?
Your posts are quite strident and overlook some key facts arguing against your reasoning; presented with logic and reason, you simply stick to your guns, overlooking key details.
The City of Palo Alto's failure to tap into such funds is a fundamental flaw in the approach taken to rebuilding our libraries; where other cities wisely moved quickly, Palo Alto -- once again -- bogged down.
At some future date, State funds may once again be available; perhaps when such time comes, Palo Alto could be well prepared to pounce.
Absent a tie into such funds, where will other public monies come from?
The City of San Mateo wisely chose to tap into private contributions early in the process of formulating their plan to fund a new main library; the private foundation continues to this day and has been quite successful at one thing: raising significant funds to support the library.
Palo Alto, on the other hand, has stuck with its long-tried approach here: appoint a committee and let them design a plan without a firm, concrete budget.
It's time to look at other cities; Palo Alto has clearly overlooked 'what worked elsewhere'.
Posted by John, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2008 at 10:56 am
"Not true. Both of those librarians rescinded their "main library" positions, after a thorough examination of the value of the branch system, and teh community's clear statements about a preference for that system."
In other words, Mike, they got thumped by the pressure groups, then they resigned. Probably any other job would be a pursuit of a personal dream, after what they had to go through. What a crock, Mike. I was here, and I remember how strongly these librarians fought for a consolidated system.
Posted by Terry, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2008 at 11:34 am
Several good points re our methods are flawed. We got to where we are because our decision making is weak - slow and inwardly focused. We live under the sway of "Palo Alto Exception-ism" - that somehow our town is different from all the others.
We do have unique advantages and attributes - but we are just squandering them with muddle-headed thinking. In most things, we are just like other similarly-situated towns, but we insist on reinvesting the wheel (poorly).
It's sad because it would be great to do more for the town. But in the face of such a poor process, the only recourse is to keep saying no until a crisis creates the lever for change.
Posted by JA3+, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2008 at 5:35 pm
"More delay will just deepen it."
Perhaps; however, more delay may lessen the burden.
Hypothetically, more delay might allow (i) a redesign of some or all of the plans to 'fit a clear, firm budget', (ii) a search for additional public funds, perhaps from the State or other non-City sources, and (iii) a search for private- or public-company funds, perhaps with a matching component to encourage those private citizens with the means to contribute funds to the build-out.
In my opinion, there may be a means to get something passed here in November; but, I believe it will take some very substantive moves; this is just my opinion; in other words, it's a conclusion based on 'gut feel' rather than logic underlain with facts.
Specifically, I suggest the following: (i) a significant change to the plans to reduce the cost, (ii) a significant contribution of funds from at least one private- or public-company [here, I suggest Google or HP might be a great place to start; I personally -- again no logic here; just gut feel -- would like to see Sid or Yiaway (or both) lead a charge to seek such funds; I think either or both would do a great job], and (iii) a significant 'challenge grant' from a large donor where contributions by others -- that is, from givers other than the large donor -- would be matched by the large donor.
There's still time to get something done; but, only if the City acts quickly and decisively.
On the matter of reducing costs and seeking private funds, I believe the City will hear from potential donors on one point: the desire to see certain improvements other than those included in the current design; again, this is just my gut feel; but private donors will generally not hesitate to give feedback; and my sense is the feedback will not be positive.
If the design stays as-is and the bond measure fails this November, I suggest the City revamps the process by which the Council obtains advice on the City's libraries; specifically, I suggest the Council looks at best practices in other cities; a revision to or deactivation of the LAC may be quite wise.
Posted by Anna, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2008 at 7:11 pm
"a revision to or deactivation of the LAC may be quite wise."
JA3+ is quite right. The LAC, including especially one member who posts regularly here, have been the biggest impediments to doing something about libraries in town. Their take no prisioners attitude has offended many who would have otherwise been supporters and turned them into "naysayers" who actively fight against both the absurd and the plausible solutions to our library situation.
Getting rid of the LAC would deprive the zealots on one side of this issue of an official megaphone, which would lead to a more moderate and intelligent discussion of the library and related issues.
It's one thing to chant *23 studies* over and over in an online forum. We don't need people with quasi-official positions doing the same in public. It really poisons the atmosphere.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 27, 2008 at 10:51 pm
JA3+, Specifically, to your points:
Hypothetically, more delay *might* allow all the things you say, but for sure it will increase the cost of whatever is left by a factor of 14-18% per year in construction inflation. There are also other costs associated with delay, and
(1) redesign, in that so many parts of the community have weighed in with positive feedback about the current design(s). Redesign would easily take a year - more architect planning, etc. etc. In all, a delay will bring a different result, but that result will not necessarily be cheaper, or satisfy the necessary constituencies. So we end up where we were in the first place, or with less library for more cost. As far as budget goes, all involved have worked to keep the current plan as inexpensive as possible. It's coming in at 28% LESS than construction inflation would dictate, using the 2002 price tag as a base.
Thus, redesign at this stage doesn't make sense.
(2) There is an active search for additional public funds underway. It's an agressive search conducted by some of the best fundraisers in town - The Library Foundation. they're a fantastic, and well-organized group.
I disagree with you opinion about substantive changes being necessary. Perhaps a tweak or two will be made, in the interest of improving efficiencies. My gut says if we do deep, grassroots education and promotion, and get some private funds in the mix, the bond will pass.
As far as decisiveness, the current crop of policy makers has been very supportive, and decisive. We are where we are because of them.
As far as the LAC goes, whatever the Council decides, it will decide. Most likely, they'll be spending time figuring out what to name one or more of the library components that have passed in the bond.
Posted by I can make up things too, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 28, 2008 at 12:39 pm
Bill, this investment IS being packaged and sold. We have the library bond measure to show for it. The LAC has been pushing this for years until we finally have a council ready to listen to reason. We no longer need the people of Palo Alto to agree what is best for them. Our supreme council will do it for them.
No-one can dispute these 23 studies. In our changing multi-faceted world, they are the one truth.
Oh, and it's 55x profit. Not 5x profit. Nice try there.
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2008 at 1:27 pm
Mike, glad you're happy. Tho I failed to be convinced (I'm sad to say) by any of your prior arguments, it was the great profit making point that sold me. BTW, are you getting into
the Atherton bond offering too ? It's going to be a doozy, I think. The same profit potential for the Community Center / library, with a police station thrown in. Unreal. And only about an 1/8 of the price of the P A offering. That assumes some inflation from the $8 Mil price of two years ago. We can only hope, you and I, that Atherton packages it so that we can get in on it.
Posted by Midtown Mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2008 at 2:18 pm
And get a load of those greedy Portola Valley residents, selfishly donating money to their library/town hall/community center and keeping the profit potential to themselves:
"The two-and-a-half year fundraising campaign to pay for a new library, Town Hall and community hall in Portola Valley is over, and there is now a formal plan to recognize project donors. A successful $500,000 matching grant put the fundraising total at $18.5 million . . . The total includes $15.5 million in gifts and $3 million from the town's general fund. The $1.5 million gap for the $20 million project could be covered by a loan from the county".
Posted by I can make up things too, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2008 at 5:58 pm
Mike, here are 23 reports saying that we get back 55x return on investments. Where are your reports saying that we don't get this back? Pony up. Can't, oh well, we see how devoid you really are of any concrete arguments. Just waving your hands around saying that we can't get this much back.
Are you an economic theoretician? No? I thought not, you and your tiny minority of naysayers with your quasi arguments trying to divert us from getting this %5500 ROI. You're just jealous of our success.
See you at the polls! We'll win with %99.9999 of the vote. I'll save a bottle of the Krug they'll be giving out for you.
p.s. Jed, love it! Nearly blew coffee out of nose.
Posted by Eric, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2008 at 7:06 pm
PALO ALTO HISTORIC RESOURCES BOARD ... The board will address reclassification of the College Terrace Library from a "contributing" building to a "major" building at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 5, in the Council Chambers at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.)
This means it will be far more difficult to ever to close this branch library down.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 29, 2008 at 9:53 pm
Shuold have posted this earlier - lots more where this comes from:
Public Library Benefits Valuation Study
1. The study clarified the usefulness of using recognized CBA methods of contingent valuation as a basis for calculating a dollar estimate for all five cities. The contingent-valuation methodology works well in a large public library setting. The study demonstrated that cost benefit methodology is a tool well adapted to measuring the direct benefits of library services.
2. Recognizable methods of cost benefit analysis used in many other kinds of CBA studies were used to measure the direct benefits of library services to each class of patrons. The project team calculated direct benefits for general users, teachers, and business users. A team of market researchers and economists designed the survey instrument. The survey was branched and tailored by a process of self-selection on the part of the survey respondent: general user (household), teacher, or business. This branching included both categorical and open-ended questions. An average interview took 25 minutes.
3. When subjected to standard statistical tests for reliability, the study proved to be valid and reliable. The tests indicated that the survey produced an accurate measurement of services based on accurate Reponses by those surveyed.
4. Based upon their answers to similar questions, the study demonstrated that different user groups receive different levels of benefits from library expenditures. The general user was asked consumer-surplus (CS), willingness-to-accept (WTA) and willingness-to-pay (WTP) questions. Teachers were asked about their professional use of the library with consumer-surplus and willingness-to-accept questions. Business users were also asked consumer-surplus and willingness-to- accept questions. Initially, the team attempted to query caregivers (professionals at senior centers, nursing centers or retirement homes) as a separate user group. The number of respondents in the latter category in all libraries was too small to treat the results as a separate sub-sample. The direct-user benefits to the various groups varied considerably from city to city, as outlined in Appendix D.
5. The outcome of the study is defensibly conservative as the research team intended at the outset.
a. They are conservative because the study captures benefits to cardholders only. No benefit estimation was attempted for walk-in or virtual visitors who did not hold cards.
b. Neither were there estimates of benefits to third party beneficiaries.
c. The consumer-surplus estimates are conservative because they are based on very conservative pricing of library services and, direct benefits are calculated only if those surveyed expressed them as substitutes for library services.
d. Finally, capital benefits exclude depreciation. Thus, estimated returns to capital compared with annual benefits with an overstated capital stock, yielding a conservative estimate of the annual return.
6. Annual local taxes spent for library operations yield substantial direct benefits. Each library returns more than $1 of benefits for each $1 of annual taxes. Baltimore County Public Library returns $3-$6 in benefits per tax dollar. Birmingham Public Library returns $1.30-$2.70 in benefits per tax dollar. King County Library System returns $5-$10 in benefits per tax dollar. Phoenix Public Library returns over $10 in benefits per tax dollar. SLPL returns $2.50-$5 in benefits per tax dollar.
7. Each library studied yields a good return on invested capital. Baltimore County Public Library returns a minimum of 72%. Birmingham Public Library returns a minimum of 5%. King County Library System returns a minimum of 94%. Phoenix Public Library returns over $150%. SLPL returns a minimum of 22%.
a. Shortly after completing the IMLS CBA study and before publicizing its results, Phoenix Public Library participated in a city-wide bond referendum that will expand its capital assets by 20% over 5 years. The referendum passes more than 75% of voter support. The overwhelming strength of this majority confirms the public's (and cardholders') perception of the high social rate of return to the public's investment in library assets, consistent with the results of the CBA study.
b. The return on invested capital measurement and that for return on annual taxpayer investment are both summarized in the seminar casebook, Libraries Are Valuable…Prove It! (Appendix A)
8. The methodology detected differences in benefit streams flowing from different levels of investment. The CBA methodology is sufficiently fine-grained to detect differences in levels of benefits that flow from different levels of support for various areas of library activity. St. Louis Public, for example, had higher levels of benefits from children’s services than did King County which invests a lower percentage of its annual taxpayer investment in youth services. Not surprisingly, the difference in cardholder categories in different systems also affects CBA benefits-stream outcomes.
9. Consistency, however, proved to be the theme of the various studies, especially when calculations were made for categories of library benefits. In the case of all five libraries, when benefits were calculated, they did so in the following order: 1) Materials for adults, on average 35% 2) staff interactions, on average 30% 3) materials for children, on average 20% and 4) library technology, on average 15%. Of these, the most problematical was technology, because comments that those surveyed made during their exchanges with interviewers often indicted that they were placing technology benefits implicitly into other categories (e.g. electronic newspaper and magazine databases were thought of as adult materials, not technology).
10. CBA has considerable value as a communications tool. Not unexpectedly, the first persons to utilize the CBA findings were the directors of the systems in which the economic analysis was accomplished. They addressed the CBA findings to diverse audiences.
a. The director of Birmingham Public states that his system is using the CBA analysis because it A) "provides a good marketing tool," B) "demonstrates library effectiveness," C) is useful "in planning and decision making," and D),"helps place a dollar value on services."
b. Using the CBA findings, the director of Baltimore County developed a presentation for staff and the public entitled "The Baltimore County Public Library: A Great Investment Any Way You Measure It." The Baltimore County presentation concludes with these phrases: "The Bottom Line Formula: Effectiveness + Cost Effectiveness = A Really Good Deal for the Public. That system also melded the statistical findings of the CBA study into findings from a customer service estimate the extent to which benefits streams were flowing from service investment dollars.
c. The director of King County used his institution’s CBA findings to develop a presentation for library employees entitled "Inside Story: Letting Staff Know How Great they Are." This program oriented staff to the significance to their work in the system and helped stress the continuing importance of taking in-service training to provide quality service.
d. The director of St. Louis Public Library provided programs to staff and board demonstrating how the system provided higher benefits streams than a dollar-for-dollar payback. More significantly, SLPL has been using its CBA results as an effective fund-raising tool in communicating with the community’s conservative private-donor community.
The director of Phoenix Public Library and Professor Elliott, the project consultant, made presentations of the study's results to members of the Phoenix City Council, and, in a second presentation, to the Library's Advisory Board, staff, state librarian, and mayor's aide. Copies of these presentations can be found in Sections 2 and 4 of Libraries Are Valuable…Prove It!, (Appendix A), which is submitted with this report. Copies of the Phoeniz presentations are provided in Appendix D.
11. Quality of library databases critical for successful completion of survey. The most problematical element in this study was the statistical character of library-user databases. No library that has not taken considerable care in creating or maintaining its user database should undertake a CBA study of the type described in this report. Databases have to be relatively accurate to guarantee the appropriate rate of completion of telephone surveys. In several of the study sites, missing telephone numbers in cardholder fields lowered the completion rates, and the researchers had to ask that the participating library systems obtain missing data on cardholders before the telephone surveys could be started.
12. Population demographics can effect survey outcome. Phoenix, known for its seasonable residents and diverse ethnicity, presented this study's most serious challenge in implementing the survey design.
a. In two independent samples of the Phoenix database in surveys taken in two different seasons (April and September/October), approximately 30 percent of the cardholders who were active at some time during the previous 12 months had moved or changed phone numbers.
b. The response rate to both surveys of general users in Phoenix were about 18%. Data for the general user surveys were weighted in proportion to the frequencies of cardholders by library branch to correct for any possible response bias.
c. To obtain a sufficient number of educator responses, a list of Phoenix public school teachers was matched against a sample of Phoenix cardholders.
d. For additional information on the Phoenix study, See Appendix D.
13. The study team cautions against comparing the benefit estimates across the five libraries studied. The benefit measures are designed conservatively to provide a defensible lower bound to the annual benefits of each library, not as unbiased estimates of each library's annual benefits. For this reason, comparisons across libraries are fraught with problems. Nevertheless, some observations are apparent. For example, average or median family disposable income is correlated with benefits per household across cities: King County and Baltimore County households reported higher benefits per household than the central cities of Birmingham, Phoenix, and St. Louis.
14. Value of service/user matrix. It is possible to measure the nature and extent of economic benefits received by each class of patron for each type of service used. Classes of patrons can be identified by cardholder type and/or by self-identification. No matter what are the means of differentiation, care has to be taken because user types tend to overlap. An example of the calculation of benefits for general users is illustrated in Appendix E (not available in electronic format).
15. Some CBA measures more useful than others. As the CBA literature predicts for the whole range of activities, consumer-surplus and willingness-to-pay benefits estimates of library services were more accurate than willingness-to-accept measurements. The researchers also found that the cost-of-time measure that had been considered at the beginning of the project was less useful than other CBA study methods. This methodology, therefore, was not reported in the study results.
16. CBA measured the benefits from both public and private dollars. Return on taxpayer investment calculations, in addition to tax-dollar benefits, can assess the benefits of private contributions, foundation grants, and grants from different levels of government.
17. The study produced a replicable methodology, but one that is not without high expense. The biggest expense was the cost of surveys, and this expense was based on the amount of detail that the research team was attempting to capture. Based upon the experience in this project, the researchers recognize that they need less detail to produce reliable results. The costs of future CBA studies therefore can be lower than this one.
18. The study reports the distribution of benefits by category of user: general users, business users, and educators.
a. The central city libraries place higher priority on business users in implementing their missions than do the suburban library systems, and this priority is reflected in the distribution of benefits. Business users received 18-22% of all benefits in Birmingham, Phoenix, and St. Louis verses only 12% of all benefits in Baltimore County and 6% in King County.
b. Similar differences in mission emerged for educational use. The central city libraries strive to be stronger partners to urban schools than the suburban systems to be stronger partners to urban schools that the suburban schools to their school systems. St. Louis educators received 14% of all benefits: Phoenix educators, 11%; and Birmingham educators, about 10%. In the suburban systems, Baltimore County Educators, about 9%.
c. Thus, in each case, the benefits streams reflected the relative emphasis and financial effort that each system made to support these constituencies.
Problems with this single "study" you have quoted (I use quotes because it is obviously a set of marketing messages with selected data as proof points, not any kind of objective study):
1) It was explicitly designed to promote a tax-increase referendum. This is a big problem. Experiments and studies that start with an agenda are suspect if they confirm that agenda. They tend to notice and measure those things that support their agenda, and to discount and dismiss things that don't (e.g. normally, more information can be obtained via the internet than through traditional library media, this is ignored). No wonder it has been used in referenda that passed. (By the way, I wonder how often has it been used to promote library tax-increase referenda that did not pass?)
2) It assumes that the library itself is a return on investment, independent of its value to users.
3) It does not incorporate driving, parking, walking, bus usage, waiting, looking for material, etc. as a mitigation of value of use of the library vs. e.g. cost to use the internet. Or vs. the cost of opening a book you've bought.
4) It assumes that the only option to borrowing a book from the library is to buy it at retail.
5) It assumes that all money collected in taxes are used for operating costs and capital costs. (Here in PA, the tax money would no doubt also be used for art; global warming exhibits and promotions; civic engagement; ABAG activities, etc. While many would see this as a good use of tax money, it's not a good assumption that the overhead would stay zero or that the return on that money would be the same as that of a library).
6) It is based on operation and capital costs in Missouri, which are probably the lowest in the nation. But books and internet usage (the alternatives to the services the library provides which is the measure of return used in the study) do not cost more here than in Missouri.
7) It seems to ignore the value of the internet, which provides much of the value that library visits do for households, teachers and businesses.
8) In the context of our bond discussion, it assumes there would be no donations to the library if the bond doesn't pass, by including in its benefit calculations the funds from non-tax sources. But this is not necessarily right for our situation, because we already have library and it gets donations.
The study doesn't show that a bigger building for the library will generate more donations to it. And even if the donations don't go to the library those donations might go elsewhere in the city where they might be of even greater value (such as to defend the city against attacks by ABAG, or to provide internet access to the homeless).
Here's what the study says about this:
" The return to annual taxpayer investment incorporates not only benefits funded directly through taxpayer dollars, but also the additional benefits made possible as those taxes are leveraged by funds from other sources. Without the taxpayer dollars, in most cases, there would be no services and no benefits. Tax support is the base that makes the existence of the institution, and hence its provision of services, feasible. The level of benefits, however, in most cases will be a multiple of those that could be supported only from tax dollars. In public presentations, one can elect to make the leveraging explicit or leave it as implicit, depending on the audience and the objective of the presentation. In the discussion that follows, all benefits are counted as part of the return to taxpayer investment."
9.With these distortions, it primarily shows that libraries are better than no libraries.
It also shows that big library buildings provide a 100% return on investment, even if they are empty and unused, because it considers the library itself to be a return. But this would not be considered a return to most people.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 1, 2008 at 2:02 am
Thank you, ekim!!!!
A key word found throughout Mike’s narrative about benefits is “patron”.
I have the complete St. Louis study. I ordered a paper copy because I was fed up reading benefit statements without any data to back them up. I also looked at the Ohio library study at Web Link
“Nine public libraries in Southwest Ohio spent $74.4 million in 2005 on library operations. These expenditures included amounts for materials, database services, salaries, and other costs of operations at all main and branch libraries. Library patrons received direct benefits from library services during the same period of about $190.4 million.”
Note that the benefit to LIBRARY PATRONS was calculated by figuring out how much they would have paid to purchase books, DVDs, etc. if they were not able to get these materials free from the library. While taxpayers spent $74.4 million on library operations, $190.4 million did not go into the general fund.
In this calculation, there is no real return, just a shift in cost from a small group of people (library patrons) to the general tax-paying public. There are no real dollars generated.
The St. Louis Library Study, which was done in 2000, provides similar information.
The study uses cost benefit analysis to determine direct benefits to an individual user (not to the entire population), e.g., for borrowing a book. It estimates how much users would be willing to pay for such items if they didn't have the library.
Posted by I can make up things too, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 1, 2008 at 9:10 am
These naysayers keep coming back for more. It simple, the more books you borrow the more you get back. If everyone doubles their book borrowing, we can get back 110x the amount we put in! There's nothing stopping anyone from being a patron and this is Palo Alto!
Come on everyone, borrow 100 books a day and we can push this benefit even higher. You don't even have to read them, just borrow them to get this benefit. Heck, just take them out and return them immediately and there you've just made $17.50 per book for your community. You no longer have to donate to the library just borrow, borrow, BORROW!
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 3, 2008 at 12:18 pm
Mike, I need your help.
At the library today. In and out to get internet-reserved book. In and out in 30 seconds. I asked how long would it take when our new Community Center Complex is built at Mitchell. Was told "Same 30 seconds, unless hindered by lines and it takes longer." Asked about increasing library value by checking out 10 books per day. I was not encouraged to do that. A hint that that might require looking into my new habit as overloading staff for no real benefit to myself. What's the correct answer to a nay-sayer like that? Help me here. Please.
The large Mitchell Park community center building was empty at 11 a.m., except for staff.
The relevant Bond is still a good value, right? ICMUTT, are you still on board with the 5x to 55x profit potential ? It seems a sure thing is slipping away. So please help. Thank you.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 3, 2008 at 1:31 pm
ekim: "normally, more information can be obtained via the internet than through traditional library media, this is ignored"
First, the above wrong on its face, because the library houses physical media, in addition to offering access to the Internet. In fact, the sheer volume of accessible information offered from the base of a modern library is FAR more than is available on the INternet alone, because the INternet does not have full text, and non-restricted use of media. Libraries, do - so, that's your *first* wrong assumption.
Your *second* wrong assumption has to do with the intention of these studies. the very first study was funded by the Federal government, to help determine once and for all if libraries did, or did not, deliver taxpayer value.
Your *third* incorrect assumption is that the studies claim the only way that one can buy media is new. That's not true. You didn't read the studies, did you? In fact, the studies purposely discount for the fact that a new book can be sold, and include that as a cost variable. The studies also go on to give VERY conservative values to average cost; usually underestimating true consumer cost of media and books.
Your *fourth* incorrect assumption has to do with either e gross misunderstanding of the way these studies are modeled (because you didn't bother to find that out), and the way their conclusions were rendered, where in fact that DO say that library revenues are used for other community-based activities that are natural library mandates, but are NOT included in the cost benefit metrics.
You write; "In the context of our bond discussion, it assumes there would be no donations to the library if the bond doesn't pass, by including in its benefit calculations the funds from non-tax sources. But this is not necessarily right for our situation, because we already have library and it gets donations."
Posted by pa library user, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 3, 2008 at 1:59 pm
Mike - you keep trying to convince people about something they already know - that libraries add value. Many of us who truly value libraries are still questioning the value that College Terrace and Downtown add to the majority of the resident of Palo Alto.
Posted by pa library user, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 3, 2008 at 6:54 pm
I'd like to know how many unique individuals use the CT and downtown branches - not how many books are checked out, but how many PA residents use them compared to the rest. The cost per person shall we say...
Posted by Real Mike Is Right, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 3, 2008 at 8:58 pm
Yes, Mike is Even Righter - the Seattle study now makes the 24th unrefuted study supporting overwhelming ROI on library investment. The naysayers may point out that it does not mention ROI, measure investment, or in any way measure return to taxpayers. Does that refute the study? Of course not. It is a study; on libraries; with tables; and numbers; and many words and pictures; that irrefutably show that libraries are good.
The time for thinking and discussion are past. We will have our libraries. 99.99% of voters and Seattle cannot be wrong. Read the 24 studies.