Jan 15 2011

Piedmont Avenue Library Building to be Vacated by October 31, 2011

The Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League (PANIL) hosted a library update meeting on Wednesday, January 12.  Oakland Public Library Associate Director Gerry Garzon’s presentation began with a review of the history of the search for relocation alternatives because of the rent increase under the new ownership.  Library staff  found that other properties on Piedmont Avenue would charge a higher rent.  At the December League of Women Voters of Piedmont meeting, Library Director Carmen Martinez advised the audience that the Piedmont Avenue Library would not use Measure Q funds to pay the rental for the existing library building beyond October 31, 2011, but also would not move the library into a portable unit.  In contrast, on January 12 Garzon told the PANIL audience that a move into a portable unit was likely, with Measure Q funds paying the costs, although no site had been arranged. Alternatively, Measure Q funds could be used to pay the rent on a nearby building if a less expensive space were located.  There have been surplus Measure Q funds for an unidentified number of years according to both the Director and Associate Director. The Oakland Library Advisory Commission minutes from its May 24, 2010 meeting noted that, beginning November 1, 2010, Measure Q funds could be used to pay “for a couple of years” rent of the 41st Street library building.

What is Measure Q? Measure Q is an Oakland property parcel tax that was approved through June 30, 2024 by 77.2% of the Oakland voters on March 2, 2004 for the purpose of “maintaining and expanding neighborhood branch library services, days and hours…”.   In 2010 Oakland homeowners paid $85.06 per parcel while other classes of properties paid less and low-income residential properties paid nothing.  In 2011 Measure Q is expected to yield approximately $14 million.  Measure Q now pays 60% of the entire Oakland Public Library budget, while the Oakland General Fund is only contributing 40%, or approximately $9 million.

Oakland expects an additional special assessment from the neighborhood: Garzon stated that moving into a future library building would require the neighborhood residents and businesses to adopt and pay a Mello-Roos special assessment annually – in addition to the Measure Q parcel tax which escalates each year.

How much could a portable unit reduce the cost of the Piedmont Avenue Branch Library? According to Garzon, the annual rent would start at $18,000 per year.  The installation cost would be $21,000 .  Furnishings would be an additional cost, although Garzon envisions reusing existing bookshelves as much as  possible.  (Built-in units could not be reused.)  Utility costs would be higher since air conditioning would be required.   Although the space would be smaller, staff costs would be higher because of public bathroom maintenance, which is not a current cost. Librarians  are not expected to clean bathrooms, and public library bathrooms require frequent janitorial attention.  If the portable unit is moored on 12 parking spaces on the Key Route parking lot behind Piedmont Avenue adjacent to 41st street, the City’s loss of parking income would be a significant cost to Oakland and would negatively impact Piedmont Avenue businesses because of fewer available parking spaces.  Thus, despite having less space for library materials (1200 square feet compared with the current library building‘s 1700 square feet), the portable unit may not provide any cost savings. It also would not have the fireplace or other distinctive architectural features of the library building.  

The Library’s History: The Piedmont Avenue library has been the original and only tenant in the architect-designed library building since 1932.  When Citibank offered to sell the building to the City of Oakland in 2008 and 2009, Oakland declined.  Citibank then required the purchaser of the adjacent bank building to acquire the library building as a condition of the purchase of the bank building.

Citibank indicates it had previously periodically offered to sell the library building to the City because the rent had been only $1 per month.  In exchange for that low rental rate, the Oakland Public Library was responsible for all expenses, taxes, maintenance and repairs to keep the building in good condition.  For a year after the new owner acquired the library building, the $1 per month rental rate was continued as a courtesy. The new owner then offered either a 15 or 10 year lease, but the Oakland Public Library and Oakland City Council would agree only to a one-year lease beginning November 1, 2010, with a one-year renewal option.  The new rental rate of $4,250 per month or $51,010 per year includes maintenance of the roof and foundation by the new owner.

Several PANIL audience members raised questions about staying in the existing library building or finding a better alternative than the portable unit.  One audience member noted the contributions by the Cities of Piedmont and Emeryville for Oakland’s Public Libraries. Garzon explained that in the past these funds went into the Oakland General Fund,  not to the Oakland Public library. [There is an inconsistency between the Emeryville payment of $80,000 ($8 per resident) with Piedmont’s $350,000 per year (approximately $32 per resident) and the expectation of Oakland that Piedmont should pay more. Emeryville’s residential population has increased significantly over the past decade to nearly 10,000, very close to the population of Piedmont, but Emeryville also has an industrial, commerce, medical and business workforce of approximately 8,000.]

Before completing his presentation, Garzon invited the audience to the opening of the 21,000-square-foot $15 million 81st Street East Oakland Community Library on January 29.  

One Response to “Piedmont Avenue Library Building to be Vacated by October 31, 2011”

  1. This article includes some significant information that, if true, would certainly be important to convey to the S.F. Chronicle’s editorial staff. I thought today’s (3/31/11) Chronicle editorial was particularly nasty.

    I’m under the impression that the new owners of the Piedmont Ave. Branch Library building live in Piedmont — and, as we know — they have substantially increased the rent from the old $1/month.

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