Update: King County Library Board delays decision on White Center-Boulevard Park consolidation

(TOPLINE: King County Library Board decided at about 7:52 pm NOT to decide, yet, on the re-proposed consolidation of WC and Boulevard Park libraries)

5:10 PM: We’re in Issaquah tonight with dozens of people including White Center community advocates, Burien city councilmembers, and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, as the King County Library Board goes back to the issue of consolidating the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries in a new location, with a resolution on the agenda to initiate that process.

The meeting is beginning with public comment. First up: a man who says he doesn’t appreciate having had to travel “this far east” to talk about White Center and Boulevard Park libraries, and at an inconvenient hour, too. He says that contrary to something that he says someone said last night at the Burien City Council meeting, there are schools within blocks of the current White Center Library. “Your plan to consolidate and move the library is going to abandon all those schools distance-wise.” He talked about seeing a young boy outside the closed WC Library on blustery Veteran’s Day, with his laptop, saying he was just there because even though the library branch was closed, he could still get the wi-fi. … “We the users are very happy with our libraries- leave them alone, take the money if you have to, build new libraries (somewhere else), leave (these two) as they are.”

Next, White Center/North Highline community advocate Gill Loring. He says he sent a “pretty harsh” e-mail to county elected officials earlier today. The King County Library System is “one of the premier library systems in the United States,” he acknowledged, but it has to keep its promise of a new White Center library – “which I voted for in 2004.” He says he’s been tracking this issue closely for two years as a library patron, book lover, and Library Guild member. “We need those libraries. A consolidated library further south isn’t going to serve the community.” Loring says he is certain a new library would draw more people than the existing one. “I can’t really find any real reasons to consolidate the libraries – looking at all the financials … I still think it comes down to, we were promised two libraries, I would like to see them remain where they are or in the vicinity of where they are so they can better serve our community.”

Next is Butch Henderson, who says he lives “within walking distance of the Boulevard Park library.” He says the consolidation plan “makes no sense to the community.” He too brings up the 2004 vote on the libraries, saying the locations enable the two libraries to serve a diverse population that doesn’t always have access to cars. He accuses the board of “not listening … The people of these communities have spoken about what they want and what they need … but you’re not listening.” He too mentions the students who use the libraries are there for computers and Internet access, things they don’t have at home – and they don’t have convenient transportation. “Libraries help the students succeed in life and in school … We have to support the people in our communities, and I just want to know, are you listening to us?”

Fourth speaker is Joey Martinez, who says he lives in the southern part of Burien and “won’t be directly impacted by this … However, I do want to say, I grew up in East Los Angeles, in a poor neighborhood, and there are two types of kids:” gang-bangers and bookworms, which he says is the same in White Center, so “I’m here to speak for them.” He says those two types of kids are going to become three types of adults – in prison, blue-collar worker, white-collar workers. “I fear if we take these libraries away, we are going to have kids who have only the gang life or the blue-collar life” – stressing that he’s not knocking blue-collar workers, but thinks kids deserve to have the chance at more knowledge access for higher achievement, too.

Fifth speaker, a Boulevard Park Library patron who says he goes there four or five times a week. If the library promises made in 2004 aren’t going to be kept, he says, he wants his money refunded.

Sixth speaker, Barbara Zimmer of Boulevard Park, who says the library is a “priceless asset.” She wants the board to protect that asset. “By keeping the Boulevard Park Library at its present location, we have access to books, computers, and knowledgeable library staff.” She says Southern Heights Elementary students met their progress goal, and she believes partnership with the library helped make that possible.

She was followed by a Bellevue resident who says community libraries are important to her, and she has some questions about “the proposed resolution.” She mentions that the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries are each 3 miles or less from the new Burien Library, and wonders if the latter facility is being so used “past capacity” that a new one needs to be built closer to it. “Should we think about spending a lot of money on a new facility of 15,000 square feet that will be 8/10ths of a mile from a (larger facility) that might be serving the community, or that it might make more sense to spend your money at the current locations, even if you’re not building new facilities … but enhancing services at those locations?”

5:33 PM: Burien City Councilmember Jerry Robison. “I’ve been a customer of the White Center Library since the early ’70s. My mother-in-law was a member of the library guild for many years.” When he grew up in a rural area, he said, the closest thing he had to a library was a Bookmobile. “What we’re looking at here is shutting down two libraries that serve two distinct communities.” He says the distances between the Burien Library and the two libraries is actually greater than a previous speaker mentioned – WC, he says, is more than 4 miles away from the Burien library. “If competition with the Burien library is a problem (then moving a community library closer) is just going to make it worse.” Regarding the “unresolved annexation issue,” he said, even if this does make more sense in an annexed world, “why not just wait” to see what happens? He is refuting other points in the consolidation rationale, one by one. “Frankly the whole proposal does not make any sense. It’s a disservice to Boulevard Park, a disservice to White Center, a disservice to Burien.”

After him, newly elected North Highline Fire Commissioner, and North Highline Unincorporated Area Council member, Liz Giba. She said earlier this year she believed this whole decision was on hold until annexation was settled one way or another. “I assumed some word would go out to the community if that changed. That didn’t happen. We really need you to communicate with us and be open and honest in terms of what you are doing and what decisions you are contemplating to make about our community and the future of the people who live in our communities … particularly young people.” She mentioned a petition signed by students. “Many of them signed the petitions on an ironing board in front of the libraries … This is a promise you have made to our entire community, and you may not understand how poverty affects not only today, but tomorrow and the next generation.” She mentioned the link between education and ending poverty. It’s about words, she said, citing a study showing that four times as many words are spoken in well-off homes as in not-well-off homes. “Words are important!” She says consolidation “will be cutting off a necessary resource” and urges them to put the decision on hold until after an annexation decision.

5:44 PM: Margaret Nelson, who lives in Federal Way, says “I came to support the people of Burien .. About five or six years ago, we went through the same situation, where we had voted to keep our library at its current location, where all of a sudden King County changed its mind” and decided to move the library. She says they got lots of support in fighting that plan. She wonders if the library board members “actually go to the libraries” and see what’s happening there. She notes that the library board members are not elected officials but should listen to the communities. “Do you not want to support us? We are the taxpayers, and we rely on you to listen to us.”

Karen Freeman from King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office speaks next, conveying his regrets at not being able to attend. She says he too requests that no decision about the library sites be made until the annexation issue is settled: “A delay would be helpful to all parties involved until more insight about community governance .. and the community’s preference regarding the project, can be obtained.”

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott follows her. “I’m here again to do as I have in two previous occasions this year” – to urge them not to consolidate. He revisits the 2004 bond measure that so many have already mentioned. He cites a study about traffic and circulation being higher in libraries bigger than the current White Center Library, which he says voters expected in the 2004 vote. “Positive steps have been taken since the last time I addressed you – Burien is moving forward to annex (North Highline). Meantime, Seattle has not taken any steps .. I do not believe the service boundaries will change in that area.” He mentions a survey of library patrons about a consolidated library location, “done without any comparison to maintain Boulevard Park and expand the White Center Library – it had a single alternative. If you ask me if I want a sexy new library, I’d say yes. If you ask me if I wanted (an expanded White Center Library), the answer could be very different.” As with several preceding speakers, he gets a round of applause when he finishes.

Greg Duff, who ran for Burien City Council this year and has served on NHUAC, is next. He is implying that the Library Board’s pursuit of this option is based on the pursuit of a more affluent clientele. “If you close the libraries, kids will not be able to walk to them.” He also talks about some cost overruns on other KCLS projects. He says he agrees with the board’s notion to pursue construction while costs are still favorable – but regarding an expanded WC Library, not a new consolidated library. “Boulevard Park and White Center are two separate communities and need two separate libraries.” He concludes by asking the board to keep the promise made in the 2004 election.

Now, Burien Councilmember Rose Clark. She is reading a letter from her council: “We are surprised and disappointed” that the consolidation measure is back. “We urge you to reject the idea again,” for the reasons cited back in May. And if annexation does not occur, she reads, the council will work with the Library Board to find a solution. “The King County Library Board is the only special district in the state whose members are not elected,” she notes. “One of the paramount reasons for annexation is to increase the access to resources (for residents),” she reminds, continuing. “Please keep your commitment to the voters.” She says the board had been asked to hold a meeting in the White Center community but “has chosen not to do that” and was asked to keep Burien “in the loop” but has “chosen not to do that.” She says it’s “reprehensible” that a decision like this would be made without holding a meeting in the community. She notes that the council talked about a possible lawsuit last night. She is asked a question by a trustee who wanted to confirm that the letter was an official letter from the city. Clark explains that Burien has mayor-council government and so the letter was sent by the mayor with council consent.

Burien Councilmember Jack Block Jr. follows. He says a journalist remarked to him that the consolidation “sounded like a done deal,” and to hear that from a journalist troubled him. He brings up the Puget Sound Park purchase plan from two years ago that stirred up consolidation concerns. He mentions the third-runway controversy. He says he remembers the 2004 bond-issue commitments and working to get the bond passed because of those commitments. He compares the attempt here to take two libraries away, with a new parking center being built in Bellevue. “If the library system doesn’t follow through on the promises that were made, there will be litigation,” he predicts. He suggests the board should be elected, because if “you don’t perform according to the wishes of the community, you should be un-elected.” He says doing the right thing would be not just tabling the resolution, but fully following through “with the commitments that were made to the community.”

6;09 PM: North Highline Unincorporated Area Council president Barbara Dobkin, who says she is speaking in her official capacity. She too mentions urging the board not to consolidate, back in June. “We heard rumors that perhaps the new library would beon 128th near Ambaum …” so, citing that location, she says the current bus system would require a 40-minute trip. She too mentions the petition signature gathering drive outside the library. “People are very passionate about these libraries. We don’t see how consolidating these ilibraries will” honor that.

6:12 PM: Rachel Levine of the White Center Library Guild, ow. “I am not a stranger to you,” she begins. She says “each one of you have the strength and the courage to vote agianst this.” She reads from the Capital Improvements Plan ” She says, “Itis my belief tat no member of this board. She implies feeling betrayed by the vote and s.” She exhorts them to “look into your conscience.” She addresses each member of the council in turn, starting with president Richard Eadie, who is a King County judge. She addresses each one by name and by occupation. “Be a risk-taker,” she iurges each on. Levine turns to the audience, then, and thanks them for coming out to “speak (their) truth.”

The next speaker offers a challenge on what public libraries are all about in our country right now. “24 million people do not have full time jobs (in the country). 50 million do not have health insurance. .. . These numbers are increasing as we see the divide between the rich and the poor increase. … The US is in a war of poverty,” and unless it’s fought, we will “spiral down,” she said. She says the White Center community has a higher percentage of free-and-reduced=lunch-eligible students – 81 percent in WC. She goes on to talk about the value of professional librarians helping students, who have increased motivation “to keep coming back to school,” and how the library plays a vital role in that situation. She says it’s important to everyone to help students succeed. She cites the national ALA policy about access to libraries “Poor people are not served equally well. Why is that? Because most of hte libraries are run by middle-class people. … We have got to make a difference in the lives of people who are moving down in the poverty levels. If we don’t, we are not going to have a very good country to live in. … We have to do this,” she says emphatically.”If you sign the authorization tonight, you are essentially closing an important door of opportunity for these students..”… The cost you think you are going to be saving pales next to the cost of (not working toward social justice).” Overall, she says it’s an exciting time for public libraries … exhorting the district to “take some risks here,” and concludes, “Don’t close the two libraries.”

Phillip Levine says he’s seen the culture grow into a “managerial society,” and under that structure, certainly, “one huge library” would make sense. But he says that concept also has caused destruction. He says library education is as important as food, clothing, shelter. He wonders why four communities have now objected to proposed loations for their libraries. “I’m really offended by living in a society that’s devoted to the bottom line” – there has to be other qualities that are valued.

Next, Judy Kistler, who says she lives “near the old Tukwila Library,” which is closing, but more importantly, she worked at the BOulevard Park Library until she retired this past spring. She says the libraries mean the world to community members,. She says other decisions have been made that are a “questionable use of taxpayers’ resources.”

(Note, the public comment period has now run an hour and a half.)

The woman after her refers to the voting system in the country.and says that should be where the buck stops – if a body like this can ovdrturn a vote, then the ballot might as well “be trash.” She says they’ve already lost a lot of service in the libraries, and “we need you to see how we’ve lost it.”

Pat Price speaks now on behalf of the Boulevard Park library, saying she and her husband have lived in BP for four years. She says she’s lucky to have a job and a car, but that many of hte library patrons are seniors who live nearby and don’t have cars, so they rely on walking to the library. “These libraries are USED,” she says. “If you move the library away where they can’t reach them. Sure the new fancy libraries will get used by those with cars ..” but not by the others who need them. And if these libraries are closed, she says, the county will need a lot more “Library To Go” vehicles. “I hope you’ll make the right decision,” she concludes.

And at 6:42 pm, that ends the list of speakers, says board president Eadie, who asks if anyone else wants to speak. No one does.

After a quick consideration of the agenda, library system director Bill Ptacek says that the board is certainly not unresponsive to the issues raised by so many speakers tonight. He says this consolidation issue arose two years ago because of something brought forth by the community, uncertain about the annexation situation, and that led to a service-area analysis. “Some of the speakers say it doesn’t make sense, and frankly, it doesn’t make sense,” he said, but moves on into a defense of the rationale behind the proposal, including the availability of more library hours and square feet of library.

He talks about the service-area analysis, and “changed conditions,” for which he summons staffer Jennifer Wiseman to step up and elaborate – conditions that have changed since the 2004 bond measure. One, she says, is the impact of the big new Burien Library, which she says is drawing clients from North Highline, as well as other areas. “Wasn’t that expected?” asks Gill Loring from the audience. She doesn’t answer.

2nd factor, “distribution per capita” – she says North Highline was expected to have more growth than it has had – “we expected a population increase in those areas, and it hasn’t happened.”

3rd factor, “unresolved annexation” – that the unincorporated area has been split into two portions, and the White Center Library is “very near the boundary of the city of Burien.” Ptacek then says that they checked with both Burien and Seattle regarding the current status of annexation, as well as with the governor’s office regarding the sales-tax incentive (which she is now proposing reducing by 10 percent). Board member Rob Spitzer asks for more clarity on the process; Freeman, from the county executive’s office, mentions the Boundary Review Board meeting in January, and mentions that they believe everything will work out OK with the sales-tax credit, and then notes that an election would follow. Burien councilmember Clark says August is the earliest that there would be a public vote on annexation.

Library staffer Christine Anderson now says that “outreach” is being done in the White Center/Boulevard Park area by the library district – beyond its library bulidings – and a map is up on the screen. The map shows more than 30 locations, and a copy is distributed around the room, with a sheet labeling the types of “outreach services” – Traveling Library Centers with “monthly bookmobile service,” ABC Express, also a type of “monthly bookmobile service,” Library2Go, described as a “monthly mini-bookmobile service,” local librarians’ visits to schools, and the Techlab mobile computer lab. (So these sites are not continuous simultaneous services, but spots where KCLS provides services at least once a month.)

7:08 PM: After she speaks, Ptacek says they’re not suggesting these services will or could replace neighborhood libraries, simply that they are a “changed condition” offering a wider variety of services than they could offer in 2004, at the time of the vote for an expanded WC library. Staffer Wiseman returns and says there are budget constraints as the fifth changed condition. Ptacek says the amount of money isn’t necessarily significant given the size of the KCLS budget, but that consolidating/building a new library would enable operation at a “much higher level” than either of the two current libraries. Right now they have enough money, he says, to make a 15,000 square-foot library happen – and even though they haven’t done “feasibility studies,” he says they “think we’re in a position to be able to do that.” Councilmember McDermott then stood up to make sure that Wiseman’s allusion to a comment he made not be taken out of context as if it supported the proposal.

7:17 PM: Board member Spitzer points out to the audience that “we all have a fiduciary duty … to the entire system.” He added, “I can only imagine how I’d feel if I lived just a few blocks from a library that is … that may be closing.” But he also says “When you tell voters you’re going to do something, you take it very seriously. … (But) the world does change.” White Center Library Guild’s Levine rises and asks to be able to provide some information. “Yes, you are all volunteers – but you have the full force of the law behind you, and you can take that levy and move it around any way you want to.” She reads from a resolution that did not make it into the levy that empowers the board. “What we did was give you carte blanche to move that $172 million around, which you have done successfully to create many beautiful libraries … but it doesn’t speak to what this community needs.” She calls the current proposal a “bait and switch” and says she hopes everyone on the board has personal liability insurance protecting them from “what someone like me (might do).”

7:23 PM: Spitzer says he wants to hear from colleagues if the case of “changed conditions” is so compelling that they would take this action. Trustee Jessica Bonebright says they have already waited a couple of years to see how annexation will go, and now, she says, they’re being told to wait another year? She also suggests those who have come to speak tonight are not representative of everyone in the community and cites the survey that was taken, which she describes as showing that a cross-section of the community supported the consolidated library. She adds, “the people who will be able to walk to the new consolidated library are not here tonight.”

Burien councilmembers Block and Clark step back up to the podium to say that the proximity of the current libraries to schools is not shown in their survey, and that they are advocating for low-income people close to the current libraries who would have to walk another mile, mile and a half to get to the theoretical new library. “You’re asking that of these students to fit into YOUR system? Are you going to write them a letter to say that you’re sorry, they fell off your radar?” A few minutes later, Duff returns to the mike, asking if low-income residents were solicited for the survey. The answer wasn’t clearly audible. Another man gets up and says he is reading board members’ body language and thinks he knows how they are going to vote – but wonders how they can do that without hearing from everyone who came to speak in support of the libraries.

7:34 PM: Bonebright then says, but if there’s not a decision in 2012, there are people not here tonight who would wonder, how much longer do we have to wait? (“They should be here, then,” says a woman behind us.) She repeats a point that if Seattle annexed White Center and vicinity, the current WC library would be “three doors down” from the city limit. Giba now steps to the mike: “Annexation is not a new issue.” She mentions that at one point while the library measure was under discussion, Seattle annexation seemed certain. That leads to a statement by board president Eadie, talking about boundary issues, and a discussion with Seattle some time back that did not end positively, regarding recovering costs of “cross-usage.” He and Ptacek go into a little more history. (The woman behind me mutters, “Call for a vote” and starts to speculate on who will vote yes and who will vote no.)

7:47 PM: Block is back at the podium to question the proposal again, wondering if the board’s policy suddenly has to change because construction costs are low, which was just cited by Bonebright, saying people in the area have been waiting for improved library services, while Block says, “Well, we have been waiting seven years for the board to make good on the commitment to build a new library.” They are going back and forth.

7:49 PM: Battery’s running out. If it’s gone before the vote’s in, we’ll update atop this story via iPhone. Spitzer moves to postpone the vote till the Boundary Review Board process on annexation. Board member Lucy Krakowiak points out she is recusing herself because she is a Burien councilmember. Rose Clark mentions the council will then have to decide on proceeding with annexation and she now says the public vote would not be likely before September.

7:53 PM: The motion passes. So the decision is delayed for at least a few months.

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7 Responses to “Update: King County Library Board delays decision on White Center-Boulevard Park consolidation”

  1. Rebecca Lopes Says:

    Thanks Tracy, Excellent coverage of the meeting.

  2. Ditto what Rebecca said. This play-by-play is priceless. Thanks, Tracy.

  3. Thanks to all who made the journey and held the Board accountable. You are all heroes in my book.

  4. Me too.

  5. Tracy, as someone in attendance, I appreciate the terrific detail you have provided for those who couldn’t make it to Issaquah with us. Thanks for hanging in there & typing so much !

  6. I am one of the people involved in the current Renton library issue. I would like to get in touch with the White Center Library Guild to start a conversation about mutual interests.

    Thank you for the help,
    Michael Riley