Apr 5 2011

Inconvenient Truths about Piedmont Library Payments

The Chronicle Editorial of March 30, 2011 ignores a number of inconvenient truths when discussing Piedmont payments for Oakland Library services:

1.         Piedmont payments do not benefit the Oakland libraries because Oakland funnels the money into its General Fund.

No Piedmont payments to the City of Oakland go into the Oakland Library budget according to the Oakland Associate Library Director Gerry Garzon.  The Library budget will not increase if a payment is made; the Library budget will not decrease if a payment is not made.  Piedmont dollars are unable to impact on the Oakland library budget.  (Oakland Library Budget Details)

2.         Oakland has chosen to close its Piedmont Avenue branch library.

The Piedmont Avenue Library will be one of the two Oakland libraries to be closed despite the existence of surplus Measure Q funds for an unidentified number of years according to both the Director Carmen Martinez and Associate Director Garzon. This decision is contrary to the recommendation of the Oakland Library’s Advisory Commission, which approved and recommended that Measure Q funds be used for the Piedmont Avenue Library rent to keep the library open in its historic library building.

3.         Oakland rebuffed the suggestion that Piedmont dollars be used for libraries.

The proposal of library supporters that Piedmont dollars pay the $50,000 of increased rent on the Piedmont Avenue branch and keep its doors open was ignored  – even though increased rent was given as the primary rationale for closing the branch.

4.         Piedmont residents support library services, including the Oakland City libraries through their local property and state taxes and charitable contributions.

As an example, Piedmont residents contributed to the fund-raiser for furnishings and equipment for the new Oakland City Library on 81st street.  Oakland City Council made $0 General Fund contributions toward the building’s construction.  For the next 25 years statewide taxes, including Piedmont’s, will help repay the State bonds used to build the library.

5.         Making a gift of public monies is prohibited by State Law.

The City of Piedmont payment is currently gratuitous. Residents will receive no access or benefit they do not already have because most library systems in this area (at least 4) now offer free library cards to all residents of the State. (“Any California resident can get an Oakland Public Library card. Library cards are free and are available at all our locations.” Also see Policies of other neighboring community’s library systems.) The past Piedmont-Oakland agreement, in contrast, was based on providing library access not otherwise available to Piedmont residents due to more restrictive rules.

6.         A request for a contribution of $665,000 attempts to add a special assessment for libraries on Piedmont residents – without a vote and without the monies going to libraries.

In the spring of 2008, Oakland asked for $665,000 as the base figure for the new library services contract.  This amount included Oakland’s special Measure Q assessment, even though Piedmonters have not voted to impose an additional assessment on themselves.

Most importantly, the monies would not go into the Oakland library budget, as required for Measure Q assessments.

Piedmont’s Long History of Support for Oakland Libraries

The Chronicle’s suggestions become moot when inconvenient truths are revealed:  payment would fail to provide any benefit to libraries of Oakland and fail to obtain any benefit for the residents of Piedmont.  It is unfortunate the Editors appear to have little awareness of the many important facts surrounding library services, the current Oakland library budget – and history.

In the early 1900’s Piedmont drew up plans for a “Carnegie” library building (combined with a high school) on what is now Dracena Park.  According to one long-time Piedmont resident and library supporter, Oakland urged Piedmont not to build its own library and instead encouraged Piedmonters to use Oakland’s library free of charge.  (Oakland had recently accepted a Carnegie construction grant in 1899 to build its handsom1902 Beaux Arts library in downtown at 659 14th Street. Oakland continued to apply for, and receive, Carnegie construction grants for four more library buildings.  As a condition of any Carnegie grant, free library service must be granted to all citizens of the United States in perpetuity.)  A few years after the Piedmont High School was built on Magnolia Avenue, a stand- alone library was designed for Dracena Park.  Once more the support for Oakland’s recent Carnegie-funded library prevailed.  Piedmonters did not build their own library and, instead, have spent the last century volunteering their time and money to Oakland libraries.

To this day, Piedmonters’ practice of volunteering in the Oakland libraries and making voluntary monetary donations to the Oakland Library continues.  Oakland library officials are attributed with the statement, “Piedmont officials might be cautious with their money, but residents there have been exceedingly generous to the library.”  And Oakland Library Director Martinez is quoted as saying, “They volunteer, donate books and money . . .So many of our wonderful supporters live in Piedmont . . . .”

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