What it does
Proposition A is a $105 million general obligation bond measure that would fund improvements to 19 of the city’s 26 library branches. In addition, it would fund a new support center to free up needed space in the main library, and improvements to Brooks Hall for use as the city’s archive. It was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and it requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
Why it is on the ballot
A bond issue in 1988 funded the new main library. It also provided a modest $5 million for the branches. This money has been spent on branches but had significant cost overruns. As a result, detailed planning for this bond issue has been done carefully over five years. The library believes that expenditure plan considers of all anticipated costs including the specific needs of each branch, the phasing schedule, and non-construction costs such as fees, relocation costs, site acquisition costs, and inflation.
Those who support this measure state:
- The library branches have suffered from neglect for many years and they are an essential part of city life. It is our responsibility as citizens to maintain and upgrade them over time.
- Renovations will reduce and stabilize annual maintenance costs.
- Replacement of the leased branches will allow reallocation of leasing costs for other purposes.
Those who oppose this measure state:
- At least some of the costs are a result of unfunded deferred maintenance in the past. Given past city management practices, will future maintenance costs also be unfunded, resulting in the need for future bond issues?
- In these flush economic times, capital improvements should be paid out of the general fund.
The city’s 26 library branches range in age from just-completed to more than 90 years old, with over half being more than 50 years old. Prop. A would fund four types of library investment:
- Modernization including seismic upgrades, disabled access, upgrading of mechanical and electrical systems, improved community facilities, hazardous material abatement, planning for future technology needs, and expanding public areas for collections, reading and computer areas.
- Conversion of three branches from leased to permanent space—Ingleside, Portola and, Visitacion Valley—to lower annual operating costs and allow better planning and technology.
- New branches in Mission Bay and the Third Street.
- More space for the materials collection and public services. This bond measure would provide funds to build a support center elsewhere for technical services, delivery services, automation services, personnel and finance, etc. to create space for the collections in the main library.
Public input was gathered through a series of public meetings resulting in the following decisions:
- The historic branches including the Carnegie libraries and those constructed during the 1930s and 40s, under the WPA program, will be retained. Those built later, which have less historic significance, will be considered for replacement if renovation costs are at least 70% of replacement costs. (SPUR believes that the library should also recognize the architectural merit of the many branches from the 1960s, designed in a modernist style.)
- A phasing schedule was developed with the following criteria: Branches with the highest (worst) seismic rating will be renovated first; a maximum of four branches will be closed or relocated at any one time, with renovations being distributed geographically among the neighborhoods; and only one of the larger “resource” libraries will be closed at one time.
- In addition to the $106 million principal, interest payments of $85 million would result in a total cost of $191 million.
Because bond money cannot be used for furniture or equipment, the newly joined Friends of the Library and the Library Foundation, now called the Friends and Foundation, will raise private funds for this purpose. Additionally, it is expected that state Proposition 14, a $350 million statewide library bond measure approved by the voters last March, will provide as much as $10 million for San Francisco libraries.
The effect of the Prop. A bonds on a home valued at $300,000 would be approximately $40 per year in increased property taxes, if all the bonds were sold at once, which is not usually the case.
SPUR recommends a yes vote on Proposition A. Bond measures are the most appropriate way to pay for capital improvements to public resources such as libraries. While SPUR did not support 1994’s Prop. E, which placed in the city charter the inflexible requirements to operate 26 branch libraries and provide a minimum of 1,028 hours of service per week, Prop. E is now law, and those libraries must be maintained.
Along with our support for the bond measure, SPUR also has two recommendations for the library:
- The use of Brooks Hall needs to be more carefully thought out. At present it is anticipated that the city will use part of the space for its technology center. An alternative of using part of it for the library’s proposed support center should be considered as it would eliminate the cost of site acquisition and would make the transfer of materials to the main library very efficient. Another alternative would be to use Brooks Hall only for book and archive storage with no public access. This would reduce the renovation costs significantly, but not provide the opportunity to use public access to Brooks hall as a way to elevate the plaza.
- In addition to the commitment to preserve the Carnegie and New Deal buildings, the library should also recognize the architectural merit of the many branches from the 1960s, designed in a modernist style.
SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition A.