In a surprise move earlier this week, the Friends of the Oakley Library suspended its pursuit of the former CentroMart Building accusing the Council and the Contra Costa Times of undermining the group’s efforts.
My first thought is I am thankful for Council members Randy Pope, Doug Hardcastle and Diane Burgis asking the difficult questions and raising some concerns about spending $92k on a mail-vote while taking a downtown asset and turning into a liability from a tax revenue standpoint. They should be applauded for doing their due diligence as city staff tried to ram this through, those three didn’t allow it to occur.
While City Staff and the Friends of the Oakley Library want to quote their survey as 73% of folks surveyed supported the library, if that was true, their would be no reason to suspend their effort. They would fight to push it forward. The truth is, their survey was not legitimate and was very flawed for many reason. For starters, it was heavily skewed in their favor while folks could not even state they reject the proposal. Once the council looked closer, they were able to figure out the numbers were misleading while the survey was not large enough. Less than 175 people in a town of 36,000 replied.
But what occurred at this past Tuesdays Council meeting was somewhat disturbing as Linda Pennock scolded the council and accused them of many things which are simply not true. Let’s take a look at her comments.
“We know that the decisions before you are often difficult, but it goes without saying that we were disappointed that you did not act at the last meeting to proceed with expanding and relocating of the library to the former CentroMart building. It has been clear that you all agree, that 1) you agree that we need an expanded library, 2) that you would like it in the downtown, and 3) that it should be achieved with the lowest impact possible to the taxpayers. What we proposed met all those goals. The Oakley City Council has recognized the need for a stand-alone library since the city was established. In fact, since 1999 the city appointed a on committee on community center/library funding.
We were hurt by the current council’s indecisiveness and lack of preparation. We were tempted to address some of the council’s harmful comments but the Friends of the Oakley Library would rather focus on constructive efforts such as building further grassroots support because the need for a library is not going away.
There is no doubt that achieving 2/3 (66.6%) voter approval would be very difficult, there can be very little opposition out there for the election to be successful and we known all along that an aggressive and strategic effort to encourage a positive vote is required. We are prepared and eager for that opportunity and have a well thought out marketing plan reviewed by a seasoned campaign consultant.
I was personally caught a little off guard at the last meeting when I was asked about our plan in part because I know that you are not legally allowed in this building and on city input about the marketing plan. Also, sharing the plan in a public setting does not seem to be a strategic smart idea if opponents are out there. Never the less, we have added detail to our original plan and confident dozens of hard working volunteers would implement it. We have also provided to you a very preliminary and early floor plan sketch similar to the one you had at the last meeting. As I said, we cannot have significant degree of opposition for this to pass.
Unfortunately, your comments and questions at the last city council meeting only work to deflate the energy and enthusiasm of the many volunteers and you passed up on an ideal window of opportunity to proceed with our proposals. Some of you even questioned the sincerity and depth of our desire to work hard for the passage of the parcel tax. You cast doubt and added fuel to the opposition.
To make matters worse, one of the newspapers reported on the meeting and completely neglected to include or quote even one, not even one, one of dozens of supporters who were present and many who spoke in support of the proposal. Instead, hundreds of potential voters read a quote from the only person who spoke against and a few negative comments from some of you. The article wasn’t fair and also fueled opposition.
This is all very disheartening and a tremendous disservice to the intelligent residents of Oakley who have the right to hear both sides of the issue and decide for themselves. We feel very strongly about our proposal about expanding and relocating the Oakley Library to the former CentroMart building.
It makes perfect sense. It meets the councils goes. It is in the right place. It is the right size and would be the cheapest way to get it done. It would be a huge benefit to the downtown business bringing over 80,000 visits a year. Unfortunately, all that has taken place will make it extremely difficult to pass a parcel tax at this time. We are also aware that there are other ideas out there; one specifically by Ricco Cinquine that would involve ground up construction at the Mora property.
It is our recommendation that we step back for now and that Mr. Cinquine and others take the next 60-days and work for a proposal and bring it to the council. Having done the research and the math, the Friends of the Oakley Library are confident that after reviewing the other proposals that our proposal will prove to be the most responsible action in pursuit of the goal that I believe we all share. At that time, the Friends of the Oakley library will pursue a significant advocacy campaign including, not limited to, presentations to community groups, face to face education, letters to the editor on editorial pages, paid ads, production of educational literature, campaign signs, door to door canvassing, phone banking, and social media.
Again, we know your job as city councilmembers is very difficult and we thank you for the consideration of our proposal and for the efforts to bring to Oakley a community library facility that Oakley truly deserves.
Now while I do not agree with Ms. Pennock and her comments, I also cannot blame her for them. She and the volunteers firmly believed in this project and put her hearts into it for several months. There were, however, several misstatements which likely could be attributed to frustration.
- She said the council did not support them. Not true, they do want a library expansion, just not under this plan.
- She accused the council of being indecisive and not prepared. Not true, the council did their due diligence and if you are spending $92k on anything, difficult questions must be asked. It was actually the Friends of the Oakley Library who were not prepared or ready to answer the councils questions.
- States they are confident dozens of volunteers would work to implement their marketing plan. Okay, so why did you suspend the effort?
- She accused the Newspaper (Rowena Coetsee) of unfavorable reporting. Not true, Rowena provided a very fair article reporting what the councils concerns were and what the council said. Ms. Pennock seems to forget back in October, Ms. Coetsee produced a favorable article of the group and even quoted Cindy Tumin.
- She claims the Times and Council fueled opposition. Wrong, the opposition was already there from the start.
- She claimed CentroMart was the right size (15,000 sq ft.). Not true, the Friends of the Oakley Library originally wanted a building 20,000 sq. ft. and settled on the former CentroMart building.
- Ms. Pennock then calls out Ricco Cinquine to produce a plan in 60-days. I am not quite sure this is possible considering the Friends of the Oakley Library had been working on this since September—much longer than 60-days.
- Furthermore, Ms. Pennock said they would print materials, get signs and other items that go along with a campaign, prior to the Jan 22 meeting, the group only raised $100. Hard to run a campaign on little cash in reserves.
As we go forward, let’s stop with the blaming of the Oakley City Council and Rowena Coetsee of the CC Times. Let’s put the blame where it belongs which is City Staff and City Manager Brian Montgomery for providing the non-profit with bad advice and false hope. The truth is, the City Staff is not being straightforward that their is interest in the building, the City just preferred the library.
Montgomery likes to claim their is little interest and it would be expensive for a buyer to bid on CentroMart. Well, that is not exactly true. In a email from Bryan Montgomery, he told me there have been many people interested. With Carpaccios, La Costa and the downtown nearing construciton completion, CentroMart should actually be more attractive now as their is a vision potential buyers could see. . Here was his reply to an email I sent on January 28, 2013.
“I think we can get their (DG Market) interest again, but we would want to make it their Market version, not what they did in Brentwood. Even then, it doesn’t fit exactly into the walkable downtown mode (it is more of a drive up, get your stuff and drive away).
We’ve had a few people call and a couple look at the building. I believe one realtor was willing to buy, but didn’t have any user – which is dangerous and we don’t want to just sell the building low for future speculation by someone else. A group looked to lease it for an ethnic market, but that market didn’t seem to be anything better than what CentroMart was and they didn’t appear to have the cash resources to make the needed upgrades. (DG estimated over $2.2M – only “big boys” can handle that kind of nugget).
Of course, the building is still subject to all the State laws related to the dissolution of redevelopment – all that complicates the matter almost as much as the fact that the building needs costly upgrades.”
Also, the city met with a potential buyer this past Monday, although little details were revealed, I’ve been told the potential is great and the buyer is serious. The city simply has to re-bid the building and see what happens. Having said that, lets move forward.
Let’s find an alternative to the CentroMart building that won’t settle for a 66.6% voter approval but instead something that could get citywide support at around 80%. Let’s learn from this and go for the “grand plan” next time around while using the library as a starting point–let’s add to it!
Time to Think “Grand”
Instead of only a library, let’s include other features that more people may want to use—such as a community center, some retail options and of course, a senior center. We should work to ensure the old firehouse is a temporary solution for the seniors as they deserve better!And if w want to get a little crazy and shoot for the moon, maybe even add in some equestrian features if a site would accommodate.
Will this be a challenge? Of course, but starting now is beneficial in order to work with various community stakeholders and get them on the side of the project, not just the Friends of the Oakley Library.
The best part, you remove the blinder from only one group working on a single goal and encompass many more goals while an army of people are then marketing the idea to others. The library gets what they want; the community has a venue to fit 200-400 people for events, and seniors get a brand new place. A park/play structure could be incorporated and the potential is endless when you include Oakley Recreation into the mix. That is a true community benefit at play.
Will the parcel tax be higher than the proposed library? Probably, but you also benefit more people who are likely to say yes. Heck, put out a poll giving the community an option with tentative numbers on what they are more likely to support—it could be eye opening!
With a 60-day delay, Oakley now has options and its residents and groups should take full advantage of this limited opportunity before the Friends of the Oakley library are back at it wanting the building. Lets get out of that mindset, lets look to a bigger and better way to benefit more people!
For now, the Friends of the Oakley Library need to look in the mirror and place the blame appropriately. Learn from it and move forward.
In the meantime, we learned we have $92k readily available. There can be no better usage for that money than to fork it over to the Oakley Police Department to further improve safety within the city.