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You may have noticed that the San Diego County Grand Jury — which purports to “serve as a watchdog to assure compliance with established law and regulations governing county agencies” — has released several reports lately.
The latest one, and I’m still trying to make sure I read it right, just lauded plans to build a new main library downtown and recommended the city take out loans to pay for it since it hasn’t been able to raise any money to do it.
I wasn’t quite sure how this fits into the grand jury’s mission, but I was willing to read it and see what they said.
I almost wish I hadn’t.
I’m going to have to take a breather here for a minute so that I can collect myself. I’d like to mock this appropriately without being too immature or unproductive.
OK, I’m back. Let’s give this a try.
First off, the grand jury has broken some news.
The last official estimate for the cost of construction of a big, beautiful new library downtown was $185 million.
To pay for that $185 million dream, the state was going to give us $20 million; the Centre City Development Corp. was going to give the city $80 million; and a bunch of rich people were going to put up the other $85 million.
Of course, only a couple of rich people have stepped up and the city still needs to raise $82 million to get to the magic $185 million.
The grand jury, though, came out with a new figure Thursday. It writes (emphasis added):
The cost of the project, first estimated at $145 million, has grown to nearly $200 million.
I’ve never seen the $200 million number before.
But let’s dive into the heart of this piece.
Here’s what the watchdog grand jury says is its purpose for the report:
To determine if a new main library as currently designed and at the estimated cost is feasible
What did the 19 jurors find?
San Diego’s current financial situation has created a cloud of doom over funding for the proposed new main library.
That’s incisive. OK. What’s next? A paragraph about how much the city has already spent on the project ($16 million).
For $200 million the City of San Diego will have a library described by some as an architectural landmark that would be recognized worldwide.
That’s nice. When do we get to the part where we find out whether it is feasible?
The proposed new main library as observed in architectural drawings and a model will be nine stories tall with two underground parking levels.
The proposed library’s inside/outside dome takes advantage of our mild climate, encourages social interaction and will serve as a cultural center for the entire city.
Definitely not here:
Libraries in Seattle, San Jose and Minneapolis have become the focal points of activity. Increase in library visitation in all of these cities has been phenomenal and has added a sense of refinement to each.
And this doesn’t tell us a thing:
Op-Ed articles and letters to the San Diego Union-Tribune refer to the new library design as ugly.
Wait, oh no! The report’s almost over. We never found out if it’s financially feasible or not and we’re already at the “recommendations” of the grand jury.
What’s the recommendation?
Consider a bond issue to completely fund the construction of the proposed main library. This would encourage personal loans to keep library construction on track. The loans could be repaid following the passage of the bond. Should the Bond fail, the loans would be considered contributions.
Let’s translate this into reality: The rich people haven’t ponied up enough money to do the library so the grand jury is telling the city to consider getting a loan to pay for construction.
But then the jurors say something odd: “This would encourage personal loans to keep library construction on track.”
They’re saying that people would see that the city is trying to get a loan from Wall Street and that would somehow spontaneous provoke residents to, themselves, loan the city money. And then the grand jury says that, if the city can’t get permission from voters to issue the bond, it should just keep all the money residents loaned it?
Should the Bond fail, the loans would be considered contributions.
This is just bizarre. I devised more sophisticated financial dealings playing Monopoly when I was 10.
If I were a high school English teacher, and I received this report, I would call the student in and sit him or her down and tell them they can have another few days to rewrite it.