Oakley residents will have to continue waiting for a fully functioning library as the Oakley City Council failed to pass formal support of one.
On Sept. 28, Interim City Manager Josh McMurray introduced a cooperative agreement between Contra Costa County and the City of Oakley that proposed the demolition of an old sheriff’s office and building of a new library in its place. As councilmember Aaron Meadows abstained from the discussion due to a conflict of interest, the motion needed at least three votes to pass. Consequently, it was a 2-2 decision that did not pass..
Had the motion passed, it would have meant that the City of Oakley commit to a $400,000 demolition project of the former sheriff’s office delta substation and Contra Costa County reimburse 50% of those costs. Secondly, the city would keep a telecommunication tower intact and operating on the property because it is needed for local law enforcement and fire services.
“But this really is the first step, as the building has become an attractive nuisance,” McMurray said in the City Council meeting. “The county has recently installed fencing to prevent the homeless and others from breaking into the building and using it, but up until then it was a weekly occurrence to have county public work staff out in the city, cleaning up that building in addition to our own police officers having to respond for calls for service at the building for various things.” The site at the moment is inactive with no plans of being renovated or retrofitted by the county. This means that the agreement to allow the city to control the property was the quickest resolution to the problem.
According to the proposal, the City of Oakley would be given control of the property for three years, during which time it would demolish the sheriff station and (at least) develop approvable plans for a library.
When it came to the discussion by the council, councilmember Anissa Williams said, “A large percentage of our residents are going there [Brentwood Library] because they don’t have the same sort of features at our freedom library and I think that for people who say that the library is not utilized, that’s coming from a place of privilege.” Williams went on to emphasize the importance of having a space for homework and tutoring for kids in Oakley, as well as the ways in which seniors could use the space. Furthermore, she spoke of the passion people have for fundraising for the library and was sure that the City of Oakley could fund the project.
Along with Williams, Mayor Sue Higgins also voiced her support for the motion.
“It’s been difficult and the librarians have done a great job with what they have to work with, but I would like to see us get a library,” she said, mentioning the librarians at the current Oakley library, which borrows a space from Freedom High School.
However, despite the dual support, the other two remaining members on the council saw things differently.
Councilmember George Fuller and Vice Mayor Randy Pope both expressed their dislike and concerns regarding the project.
“No matter what happens we’re going to have to go out for a tax measure and I’m just going to say straight out, if it goes out for a tax measure I will stand opposed to it,” said Fuller in opposition to the motion. He cited the increase in sales and property taxes in key neighborhoods in Oakley.
Fuller also was adamant that there was not enough information and the current library status was sufficient.
“I would be glad to reconsider this, but I would like to see the Friends of Oakley bring in data,” he said. “Bring in why we need a library other than ‘Gee it looks so small’ and I would love to see them put down ‘what could be the use’ and especially on this day.” In not only his questions to City Manager McMurray but also in his general comments, Fuller was clear in his questions and comments that if people wanted, they could get the data themselves because it is public information.
This idea of a tax measure being put out to the public appeared to be of little concern, as McMurray had mentioned in previous comments during the meeting, “Knowing that it [planning] started before the fiscal year budget was adopted. We anticipated the demolition cost before the new fiscal year, so it [the budget] has funds allocated.” This meant that more than likely, the City of Oakley did have the funds to spearhead the project.
Furthermore, Higgins indirectly responded to this notion of a tax measure as well, saying, “I think to say it’s going to be a tax—we’re kinda putting the cart before the horse — because we don’t know if it’s going to be a tax or not.”
As Fuller asked McMurray about a document that could prove if a library would benefit the city, McMurray brought up the fact that the librarians working the current Oakley Library have previously requested for library improvement.
“I can say that I’ve worked with the city for over 13 years and I’ve sat through a lot of City Council meetings and a lot of updates from the county librarian and the Oakley librarian and every time they come and update us,” McMurray said. “They talk about how insufficient the current library is and how if they had more space, they could offer more programs and how many people use the library. I think that the most valid data we have right now is talking with the people that do it in that business because they’re in the business of serving the public a little bit different than we are.”
Aside from Fuller’s prediction of a tax measure, Pope expressed his concerns over the logistics of the agreement.
“The city has supported this idea, previous councils have supported this idea, and we have put money up before. We fronted the money for an initiative. The condition was ‘Oh, when it passes, we’ll be reimbursed by the revenue generated.’ Well, it failed,” he said, citing the importance of a plan that was more solid with fewer variables. “I don’t want to repeat again. Before I were to approve something like this, I would have to have some pretty strong evidence that we would be able to produce a library or the plans for a library that the county would accept, with funding and operations and maintenance—all the things that this requires that we prove to the county before we get to keep the property.” Due to the three-year time limit on the agreement, one of Pope’s concerns was that while coming up with ideas for a library was great, the realistic expectations for that library needed to be taken into consideration.
Pope also said, “It’s their property, it’s their responsibility, not ours.” He explained that since the property currently belongs to the county, the county should enforce code and safety with the building.
Williams, who was adamant that the library would be an overall benefit to the community, spoke about how the library would be able to happen.
“The ballot measure before was a tax that we were going to impose on people, so it needed to pass with 60%, I believe, and it got to 57% so more than half of the city wanted to tax themselves,” she said, mentioning a previous tax measure to fund a library that had missed the mark to pass by 3%. “So we keep talking about how ‘I’m not going to vote for taxes, I’m not going to vote for taxes,’ it’s the citizens who vote to be taxed, and if it’s a citizen-led ballot initiative, it only has to be 50% plus one. So if a citizen had put that on the initiative before that tax would have gone through.”
Even beyond the support of Higgins and Williams, more individuals voice their support during the public comments. One was Arnold Fitzpatrick, the Advice President of the Friends of Oakley Library..
“We do not have an elaborate home. My understanding is that we are only Freedom campers as guests, and we were only supposed to be there for five years. So at any time, they could terminate our being there,” he said, emphasizing the importance that the City of Oakley not maintain its current status of borrowing a space from Freedom High School.
“I’ve spoken with the Supervisor Burgis, and she is in full support of having us get this here,” Fitzpatrick added. “ And we, as the Friends of the Library, are in full support of this agreement, and we feel that we can get sufficient support in the next three years to get something going and to really get this going.” The passion that Williams had previously brought up was once more mentioned by Fitzpatrick, as he contended with the City Council to allow the measure to pass.
Fitzpatrick also addressed the tax problem voiced by Fuller.
“I can understand the apprehension—I myself do not like necessarily paying more taxes. But I am a passionate library person, and I wouldn’t mind paying a few more taxes for that particular thing,” he said. “Also, we are very much restricted by being on the campus there and being able to service the city and the citizens. There are so many other organizations that we can work with—that we are concerned with—that we cannot work out of the library where we are in order to give the citizens of Oakley all of the services that we could provide for them.”