Apr 25 2011

Piedmont Issues a Check for $350,471 to Oakland – But $0.00 to the Libraries

Oakland Public LibraryOn Monday, April 18th, the Piedmont City Council reaffirmed its desire to make a contribution of $350,471 to the City of Oakland general fund for the year 2009-10 and the City Administrator issued a check payable to the City of Oakland the next day.  The monies will not increase the Oakland Library budget.  At the request of the City Council, the City Administrator Geoff Grote reviewed the library services issue.  Grote first noted recent inaccurate press reports by the San Francisco Chronicle, and echoed elsewhere, which ignored Piedmont’s efforts to achieve a library services contract with Oakland since the spring of 2008.  Grote began a detailed walk through the communications over the years since the end of the last contract in 2008. (See emails and letters in staff report.) He demonstrated a pattern of very prompt offers by Piedmont officials and very slow or no responses by Oakland.  At an April 2010 meeting at their City Hall, Oakland finally rejected the offer made by Piedmont in 2008 and repeated in 2009.  An offer, that in retrospect, Grote is very relieved Oakland  refused, since now Piedmont could not afford to pay the large amounts it offered in the 2008-12 proposed contract.  Grote once again lamented that the press created the mistaken impression that Piedmont has refused to pay anything.

Mayor Dean Barbieri pointed out to the audience, “I met with Jean Quan at the Alameda County Mayors Conference (February, 2011) and told her that if you would like to have the $350,471 that we have budgeted, you can have it tomorrow. And she said, no, that’s not enough.”  Council member Jeff Wieler said he supports library services and it had never been his intention not to pay Oakland.

Grote mentioned that despite Piedmont’s continuing desire to contribute to Oakland’s library, in practice, “all people who present themselves are welcome to a library card in many, many cities in California.”  Librarians seem inclined to issue cards to any California resident who walks in the door.” 

Grote went on to describe the decline in library services since 2008: bookmobile service has been terminated; library hours have been reduced at the branch libraries closest to Piedmont; and the closure of the Piedmont Avenue branch library scheduled on or before October 31, 2011.  “In the past there were specific costs for Oakland attributable to providing library service to Piedmont such as the time and gasoline for the bookmobile service in Piedmont.”

Also noted was the disparity in the $100,000* library services contract with Emeryville. Grote skeptically noted unspecified “free use” of Emeryville’s senior center building by Oakland as the explanation offered by Oakland.  (See related article on Emeryville’s senior center regarding the lack of free use for Oakland residents.)  There was also considerable confusion due to the $350,471 invoice from Oakland being attached to a cover letter stating that the agreed amount was $395,000.

Contribution will not benefit the Oakland Libraries

Council discussion on Monday included the desire that the amount Piedmont paid should go to the Oakland library. However, Grote reiterated that Piedmont’s payment will go into Oakland’s general fund, rather than to the Oakland library budget.  The Council did not vote to include any restrictions on the payment’s use. The Oakland library budget will not be increased as a result the $350,471 payment from Piedmont.

Residents of Oakland and Berkeley, union representatives, library employees and the President of the Piedmont League of Women Voters spoke at the hearing about their desire to see Piedmont support the Oakland libraries.  However, fulfillment of the Piedmont Mayor’s February promise to Oakland’s Mayor – immediate payment of $350,471 – may have precluded any further attempt by the City Administrator to negotiate provisions to ensure the payment would go into the Oakland Library budget.

LWVP endorses support to libraries, but not a specific payment amount

Tam Hege, President of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont (LWVP), described her history of working on the issue since 1995.  She mentioned that because her house is on a split parcel, part in Piedmont and part in Oakland, she already pays a library tax to the City of Oakland. She opined that the current Oakland Mayor’s issue is parity.  In 1995 Piedmont was considering partnering with San Leandro.  The LWVP was not enthusiastic about that idea.  She read the LWVP position on library support:

“Support the availability of free, publicly-supported library services for all Piedmont citizens.  These services should be equal to the services provided by major library systems.  We believe that, as a responsible member of the Bay Area community, Piedmont should pay its fair share for quality library services.”

Hege emphasized that, “the LWVP position does NOT mean that we agree that Piedmont ought to pay an amount equal to the per capita Oakland resident General Fund plus Library tax because we do not have any equity at all in the library system.  We do not have service of the bookmobile and the OPL book return bin on Highland Way seems to have infrequent pickups.  We do feel that Piedmont should pay something.”

A $247,000 payment would have been equivalent to Oakland residents’ General Fund contribution on a per capita basis:  $23 per resident.

A $106,670 payment would have been equivalent to Emeryville’s contribution:  $10 per resident.

However, the Piedmont City Council chose to leave intact its $350,471 budgeted payment, an amount $100,000 and $244,000 greater respectively, and a check for $350,471 was issued based on Monday’s Council discussion and direction, together with Oakland’s clarification that it would accept $350,471 as “payment in full” for the 2009-10 year.

Several speakers at the meeting noted the lack of parity between Oakland’s expectation of Emeryville and Piedmont, two cities of similar residential populations although Emeryville enjoys a much more extensive and lucrative corporate and retail tax base: Emeryville’s payment is only $10 per resident, not $33. Other speakers suggested Piedmonters ought to pay more – as much as Oakland residents pay, including the special library assessment, ignoring that Piedmonters have never voted for the imposition of a special library parcel assessment.  Grote interjected that Piedmont pays its police and paramedics less than the surrounding communities pay, “even though they do a superb job.”  Wieler suggested a ballot measure asking if Piedmonters want to have a library parcel tax.

The City Council took no vote at the end of the discussion, leaving its budgeted amount for library services at $350,471, but the press and public may have been educated.

Missing Data added to Misperceptions

During the past years of negotiations the Council has often received only sporadic and incomplete data on the amount of use of Oakland libraries by Piedmont residents. Council Member Garrett Keating urged gathering information about library use from Piedmonters.

No one participating in the City Council meeting mentioned the 2008 demand by Oakland that the library contract be renewed beginning at the amount of $665,000 per year, although the Piedmont Civic Association had reported it on its website at piedmontcivic.org on April 5. In the City Administrator’s proposed FY 2008-09 budget submitted to the City Council prior to June, 2008, he reported, “The City of Oakland has proposed that the library contract be renewed at $665,000 per year.” The significant difference between what Piedmont offered and Oakland demanded in 2008 explains the failure to agree on a contract that year, a question raised by more than one speaker.

For 10 years, ending July 1, 2008, Piedmont’s contract with Oakland was based on paying the same per capita amount from Piedmont’s General Fund as the per capita amount contributed from the Oakland General Fund.  Piedmont’s population has fallen from 10,952  (2000 census) to 10,667 (2010 census), while Oakland’s population of 399,484 (2000 census) fell to 390,724 (2010 census). The current Oakland General Fund contribution to their library system is $9,059,989, which is $23.18 per capita.  If Piedmont matched that per capita amount, it would pay $247, 261 for some future years, since Oakland cannot contribute less than the current amount from their General Fund, without losing all Measure Q funds.  The Oakland City Council policy has stabilized the Oakland general fund contribution at $23 per resident.

Last fall the Council requested that staff’s mid-year budget report “include a comprehensive analysis of issues related to library service, including the contract with the City of Oakland, service access and alternative options.”  (See p.7.)  However, the mid-year report recently presented to the Council did not contain this analysis. 

* The $2500 Emeryville contribution to the Friends of the Oakland Public Library is a separate charitable contribution.

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