Measure N Money Grab Delays 81st Ave. Branch
As voters decide the fate of Measure N, a $148 million library bond issue, City officials are hiding a $3 million scandal that has delayed promised groundbreaking for a branch library at 81st and Rudsdale Avenues.
When the Redevelopment Agency adopted its 2005-07 budget, it committed $3.5 million to the 81st Avenue library, a joint project agreed by the City and the school district in 2003. The district pledged $1.75 million to pay for multi-purpose space in the building. These local commitments brought in a State grant of $6.5 million from the Office of Library Construction.
The Redevelopment Agency said, "By 2007, this new library will be constructed in an area currently without accessible library services." (ORA FY 2005-07 budget, issued August 2005, p. C-29) Almost two years ago library director Carmen Martinez, with the State grant fresh in hand, said, "It's going to be built, and it's on the way." (San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 2004)
Today, however, weeds grow on the vacant lot. Construction has not begun; the 22,000 square foot building cannot be completed in 2007.
Weeds and $3 million in extra Measure N taxes
Since 2004, newspaper reports have pegged the library cost at $10 million (exclusive of multi-purpose space paid for by the school district). The Redevelopment Agency and State commitments fully cover this amount. As recently as June, the master plan for the library system confirmed that the 81st Avenue library is "already funded." (Master Facilities Plan, June 2006, p. 46) However, when the council mangled the master plan into Measure N in July, the appended project list was modified to state that the 81st Avenue library needs $3 million of Measure N bond money!
The State grant remains in place according to the website of the Office of Library Construction.
What's going on? Arithmetic allows two explanations. On one hand, if Measure N passes, the Redevelopment Agency (which is the city council acting under a different name) might eventually cancel part or all of its $3.5 million commitment, recouping the money for developer subsidies and other uses unrelated to libraries. Always clever at spin, the Yes on N campaign turns the situation upside down by claiming measure N would build two new libraries, one of them being the 81st Avenue branch. The spinmasters do not square their claim with director Martinez's plain promise that the building "is on the way" and the assertion (until the last minute) that this project was already funded.
Sources: Line items from project lists in June master plan and city council's Measure N
(Update:) We are told however, that Measure N now promises $3 million for 81st Avenue because the cost has escalated significantly. Someone failed miserably to calculate. Specifically, a City official answered an October 27 inquiry asking, "Is the $3 million in Measure N a replacement for some of the other funds or is it to pay an additional cost now being recognized (and if so, what)?" According to the official, "These funds are required to address the astronomical increase in the cost of construction materials." The figures cited to support this explanation rely on construction inflation in 2004 and 2005, with likely further inflation in subsequent years. Yet right until June 2006 City Hall misinformed the public, just as Measure N was being debated, by labeling the project "already funded."
Furthermore, there is no indication that the dollar costs quoted in Measure N for Kaiser Center and the other branches similarly reflect supposed construction inflation. As Measure N states, many of the projects will not begin for at least five years. You can bet that the City will come back whining, "We didn't count all the costs, please give us more money." In other words, Measure N is a foot-in-the-door ploy.
Measure N is being sold with many misrepresentations. This latest one betrays solemn promises to residents around 81st and Rudsdale Avenues. By defeating Measure N, voters tell the council it must write an honest measure that gives real priority to the neighborhoods, instead of wasting $733 a square foot on a downtown palace.
– Oct. 30, 2006