Reader Burn the books, please mocks my skepticism about the construction of the downtown library:

OK, steel rose in price. I get it. A library is too expensive for this bankrupt city to contemplate. So why not just force the main library to make the ultimate sacrifice for the city its served for so long? Tear it down, sell the books on ebay, grind the concrete back into dust so it can be recycled as filler for cattle feed, recycle the steel so Doug Manchester can get a price break on his next mega development and use the glass for mason jars to put the savings for the city pension plan in? We don’t need no stinkin’ library, because all the Libertarians in SD are connected to the net, right? So who needs books? Burn the unsold leftovers to warm the homeless we’re not sheltering in the cold months and let San Diegans praise themselves for benevolence in intelligent government.

Yep, you got me. I’m a book burner. I hate reading. I hate knowledge.

I was going to save this for the end of Library Week, but let’s just get this out of the way.

I have no problem with the government deciding it wants to build a library. The new central libraries that have risen in other major cities are quite nice. Libraries extol a peaceful, inspiring environment. I understand their lure.

What frustrates me is the lack of sincerity about the issue. The mayor, for example, is well aware that he can’t decry the city’s lack of money and, at the same time, support a new massive luxury like a library. So what does he do? Oppose it? No, he supports it “as long as no general fund money is used to pay for it.”

That’s an absurd dance around the facts. The Centre City Development Corp. is putting at least — at least — $80 million into the project. CCDC is nothing more than a department of the city of San Diego. Its funds could easily be used to pay, for example, the bond payments the city makes each year on the ballpark. That would free up millions in the general fund for things like police, fire and recycling efforts.

If the mayor wants to choose to build a new library instead of improving the city’s roads, police protection or fire protection. That’s fine. Go ahead. But he needs to be honest that his priority is to fund a new main library above funding these other things. Because that’s what he’s doing.

It’s just ridiculous that he pretends this is just free money.

And he’s the most honest booster.

Don’t forget City Councilman Jim Madaffer’s contention in this 2005 op-ed in the Union-Tribune:

Funding for the main library comes from non-city sources including a state library construction grant, downtown redevelopment funds and private donations.

Funding for the main library comes from non-city sources… I’m sorry, that’s just a plain lie.

“Downtown redevelopment funds” are tax dollars paid by businesses and residents in downtown San Diego. They are administered by the Redevelopment Agency, which, drumroll, is the City Council. The downtown redevelopment funds are supposed to be used to fund downtown projects and new development downtown, yes. But there are plenty of things that they could pay for that general fund monies are spent on now.

The City Council could decide that the CCDC money should pay off the ballpark bonds and immediately free up funds for other issues.

But the City Council deliberately has chosen time and time again — yes, Jim Madaffer included — not to use CCDC’s money for that and to instead use it to buy a new library.

That’s fine, if they prefer to use CCDC’s funds for a new library.

But do not try to pull the wool over our eyes and act as though we don’t have to make any sacrifice for the new library. It’s insulting.

Finally, there’s the most outrageous assertion. The whole point of building a new library is that it will be bigger and more beautiful than the old one but city leaders have tried to claim that it will not cost any more to operate than the old library.

Again from Madaffer’s op-ed:

Consultants retained by the city have reviewed the new main library operating costs and have concurred the current staffing levels will be adequate to operate the new facility.

That consultant later had this to say to’s Andrew Donohue about whether the current library’s staff could handle the new library:

Bob Rohlf, the Minneapolis-based consultant cited in the staff report, confirmed in an interview that it was, indeed, possible. However, he didn’t think it was a good idea.

“You could. I would hope you don’t simply because the staff will be worked to death,” he said. Rohlf also said it was nearly impossible to predict what staffing level will be adequate without knowing how many visitors the library will attract.

That’s what gets me. The city’s leaders say they want a new library to support the principles of public knowledge, but to get it they’ve decided the only route is with a frustrating campaign of misleading spin and obfuscation.

The goal of Library Week is to try to cut through all of that.


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