Not the Kaiser
Judith Offer of Oakland is a poet and playwright. This commentary appeared in the Montclarion, Oct. 13, 2006.
I am an avid user of the Oakland Public Library. As a playwright, I have found that the collection provides me with a good research foundation for almost anything. The librarians are the best; they are consistently friendly, informed, interested, even eager to help.
Measure N asks the public to approve a bond that will upgrade or expand all the branches, and to build two new ones. I would stretch my household budget for that, happily. But actually, in spite of the way it is being marketed, Measure N accords about two-thirds of its funds for the conversion of the Kaiser Auditorium to a new main library. This conversion is budgeted at $100 million – twice as much as the work on the 18 branches combined.
In spite of the fairly hard sell for N coming at us, and the local personages that have hopped on the bandwagon, my misgivings about this project are far from allayed.
Why are we dumping a sturdy structure, built to accomodate two more floors, for a much more expensive rebuild? The old library is well-located and constructed on more solid ground – important for books, which are extremely heavy. A new structural steel support will not be needed. It was built with addition in mind.
The Kaiser Auditorium is a performance space that should be the envy of the country. We could have mariachi festivals, taiko drum festivals. children's choir festivals. We could have an official city theatre company, space to develop new plays, circus displays. We could have dog shows, horse shows, antique car shows. The Kaiser Auditorium has a rich history of dances, city festivals, and might I point out, positive press.
Instead of a reputation solely for murders, scandals, and angry public meetings, our city could be developing a reputation as a center of amazingly varied performance arts. We already have the exquisitely diverse population, the trained professionals (currently working in other Bay Area cities) the middle-class audiences, and even the gorgeous and fabulously-located building (in good repair) that other cities work decades to create. Yet instead of looking for a good marketer and making an effort to use it well, we are asking our public for $100 million to destroy it!
Speaking of money, another issue of concern to me is the creeping addition of city expenses on the backs of the ordinary Oakland householder. On top of housing and other rising living expenses, the city has piled higher fees for parking, permits, and nearly everything.
Now, in order to improve our libraries, we have to shell out more hundreds of dollars per year for an indefinite amount of years, for an unnecessary, and even destructive, pet project.
As a poet and playwright, I would like to be jumping on the bandwagon for the Oakland Public Library, which I really love. But the way that Measure N is constructed, I am forced to vote no.
Montclarion, Oct. 13, 2006
Kaiser Center Not the Answer for Library
Earlier, Oakland playwright Judith Offer wrote this letter to the editor about Measure N.
There are several good reasons not to use the Kaiser Center for a main library.
The most important is that the library isn't really serving the neighborhoods sufficiently yet. Better hours, more services, better outreach, many more computers, and several more small, reachable branches would be much better for the actual human beings that live in Oakland neighborhoods than some "state of the art" palace that's too expensive and complicated for most of the citizens of the city to get to.
Secondly, the auditorium's big hall, which is the space proposed, has no windows. Who ever heard of a library with no windows? Or are they proposing some change which will destroy this magnificent classic building? This is one of the most beautiful structures in our city, with nationally-recognized sculptures adorning its front arches. Most cities would be bragging up a storm about a performance center like this.
A third reason is that the ground is basically swamp underneath. The building sank appreciably when it was first built, and had to be restabilized. (The Oakland Museum, next door, has problems with water, drainage, etc., on its lower level.) Books are extremely heavy, as anyone who has ever moved knows, and I wonder whether an engineer has looked at the question of whether this structure could support a library.
You can't be too suspicious of these "state of the art," "world class" plans . . . San Francisco spent a bundle on their new library building and it's a nice monument to the architect, but it's already out of space for new books and places for people to sit and read . . . though the bathrooms for the homeless are more convenient, and there's lots of display cases.
An important issue to me (a playwright) is that we actually need the theatres that are in the Kaiser building, and not as meeting halls or wedding sites. Oakland has blithely torn down nearly all its small theatres, and does nothing to promote theatre. They didn't try marketing the Kaiser Center, and pretended they had, and that they couldn't find customers for it. Typical Oakland City Hall machinations; the people in City Hall are kind of ignorant on theatre, and what it could do.
This plan looks suspiciously like the Carmen Martinez Memorial, rather than a good idea for our city.
Montclarion, July 21, 2006
Did the City Kill Kaiser Center?
In a letter submitted to the Grand Lake Guardian, poet and playwright Judith Offer gives details suggesting that the City let Kaiser Auditorium fail as a cultural center so that councilmembers could propose spending $100 million for a palace library there. She writes:
The Kaiser Auditorium is shuttered because it wasn't being used well. It wasn't being used well because for at least five years, the only "marketing" that had been done for it was an ad in a bridal magazine. There was no marketing director and nobody trying to make it happen. What other large city with a beautiful performing arts center would consider such behavior?! Also, the backstage crew had been allowed to charge exhorbinant fees – $35 an hour per man – and would not allow people to bring in their own staff to even move chairs and tables, even one foot. Also, the Black dance companies at the Alice Arts Center had been given special rates, although they already have free space to work in every day, and the extra money had not been reimbursed to the Kaiser budget. In my opinion, this situation was allowed to continue specifically to make the Kaiser available for library use.
Responding to Measure N advocate Genni Katz, Offer also examines the claim that we should spend $100 million on a palace library because there is a parking problem near the current main library. Offer writes:
I guess Genni doesn't go to the Main Library often, or she doesn't know where the Kaiser is, because they are about three blocks apart, and all of the same transportation/parking availability applies to either one. The parking for the Kaiser, by the way, is already in great demand during the day for Laney students, Museum attendees and other nearby uses.
Most people don't go to the Main too often. Many Oaklanders don't have the extra $3 and the extra hour to get downtown on the bus. What they need is the ability to get in and out quickly for a book, time on the computer, or a movie. They need a safe place to read in their own neighborhood. They need homework help from a friendly librarian. They need encouragement to go to a nearby place and learn to read.